- The government is committed to consultation with all stakeholders including First Nations and non-governmental organizations to ensure there is a sustainable fisheries industry that grows the ocean economy.
- By choosing seafood, Canadians get a healthy, delicious choice while also supporting rural and coastal communities that rely on the seafood industry.
- Canada has committed to 30% conservation of its coastal and marine areas by 2030.
Stakeholders in the fisheries industry must do everything they can to continue to promote Canadian seafood.
What is the intent behind the blue economy strategy?
When we look at Canada, everyone is very proud of the fact that we have the longest coastline in the world—we have three oceans—but at the same time, we do not really drive our economic growth through the ocean, and there is so much potential there that we could be using.
Of course, that is something that we want to explore, expand on, and make sure that we take full advantage of it. When we look at countries like Norway, for example, about 37% of their gross domestic product comes from the ocean economy, and yet Canada is at 1.5%. We know that there is a lot of potential there that we could fully develop further.
The Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) has partnered with the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA) to develop our own vision and some ideas for the strategy. Can you talk about the steps forward in developing the strategy?
There is always work ongoing with regards to oceans and some of the work that we have done includes the Oceans Protection Plan, the National Shipbuilding Strategy and the Ocean Supercluster. But we know that there is a lot more that we could be doing.
Opening up a consultation process with stakeholders, with First Nations, with all levels of government, with non-governmental organizations, and making sure that we hear from everybody is going to be key as we develop this. We are making sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to figure out the best way forward to drive the ocean economy while still making sure that we are keeping things sustainable, and that the ocean is there for our enjoyment and our use for years to come, for generations. This is kind of a two-fold process, it is about building an economy but making sure that it is still sustainable as well.
How is the fisheries sector adapting to and coping with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Fisheries was one of the first sectors that was hit with COVID-19 and we saw things starting to slow down in January and February. We are primarily an export market in a lot of our seafood. We were seeing the shutdown of things like Chinese New Year, which was always a huge market for the lobster industry, and then the white tablecloth restaurants started closing around the world and on cruise ships. It really impacted the fishing sector significantly.
I have been extremely impressed with how resilient the industry is and our fishers. We as a government stepped up to make sure that there was funding available to help them get through this with things like the Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund and the Fish Harvester Benefit Grant. These are all initiatives that we took in order to make sure that the industry could not only get through this tough time but could come back strong once we are on the other side of COVID-19.
“I have been extremely impressed with how resilient the industry is and our fishers.”
What we have seen is that at the very beginning people were calling for a shutdown of seasons completely because they were just so afraid of what was going to happen. But overall, it was a tough year—there is no question, the industry was down—but at the same time, it was in a lot of cases better than what they had thought it was going to be.
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The government support programs have been key in allowing the industry to continue to operate through all this disruption associated with the pandemic. How have these government support programs been running since they opened up?
The first thing we did was the Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund and that was not just a fund to help the industry get through a tough time, it was also to help build capacity for the future, which I think was really important.
One of the things that we saw in a lot of cases with COVID-19 were the gaps in areas, and because we were primarily a fresh market export business, we saw challenges around refrigeration, freezer capacity and value-added. The money that we put out was made available to make sure that people could adapt their facilities to meet those challenges. We have seen that, as well as making sure people are safe in their plants. That was another big thing purchased: personal protective equipment for the industry. Those were really well received programs.
People knew that they had to start thinking a little bit differently than they had before in order to sell their products this year, and we did see that. We saw everything from companies who went from being a fresh oyster product to a smoked oyster product and were able to retool their facility in order to meet those needs—and that saved their business. We saw everything from that to Plexiglas going into facilities to separate workers so that they can stay safe. That was the Fish and Seafood Stabilization Fund.
For the harvesters directly, this was the largest single investment the government has made in fisheries since the cod collapse. It was a $500,000 program for harvesters, which allowed them to make some tough decisions in terms of whether or not they were even going to fish this year. This was money that was available directly to the harvesters as well as their share crew, recognizing that they put out a lot to fish—it is an expensive venture to begin with—and wanting to make sure that we had their backs if they should decide they did not want to. They were able to apply for that funding but a lot of them actually ended up feeling that they were okay in the end. They had to have a 30% decrease in order to qualify for the funding, but there were a number who did not feel that they needed to apply, so that was a good sign that the fishery was a lot stronger than they thought it was going to be but that we were there for them if they needed it.
What might be needed from government to help the fisheries industry and others get through the fall and winter?
Those are still ongoing conversations to see how things play out. We have had the discussion about domestic markets and how important those are going to be as we need to develop those further as well. We also have the Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund, which is allowing businesses and organizations to promote seafood domestically. If we do not have the export market that we are used to, we need to start looking for where the market is and the best thing to do is to start promoting it locally and within the country. Not enough Canadians eat seafood and we have to make sure that we do everything we can to push that as much as we can.
What approach are you taking to Canada’s international commitments to conserving biodiversity?
In terms of our marine protected areas that we are looking at conserving, or conservation areas, we have committed to 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030. It is important to put in context where we came from.
In 2015, when we were first elected, there was less than 1% of our oceans being conserved. We had set a goal of 10%, and we have actually surpassed that now, we are almost at 14%, and we are in active negotiations now to make sure that we hit that 2025 target. As an example, there is the Pacific Area of Interest on the north coast of Vancouver Island.
“In 2015, when we were first elected, there was less than 1% of our oceans being conserved.”
The challenge is people who seem to think that because you want to conserve something it means you want to stop something, and that is not the case at all. Conservation means making sure that we have a long-term plan for the sustainability of the area. That is what we are looking at right now; we want to make sure that we continue to grow our blue economy that we talked about initially, but that we do it in a sustainable way to protect our biodiversity as well.
As we have said many times, the environment and the economy go hand in hand. It does not have to be one or the other, there is a way to drive economic growth and still make sure that you are doing it in an environmentally sustainable way.
There is an evolving situation in the lobster fisheries in Southwest Nova Scotia. Are there comments you would like to make about that situation?
You are absolutely right when you said this is very complex, it is. It is an extremely difficult situation. It is something that has been going on for a very long time. Of course, the Marshall Decision, no one is arguing the First Nations’ right to exercise a moderate livelihood, and what we need to do is find a way forward to implement that.
“I often say if this was a simple solution, it would have been done 21 years ago when the Marshall Decision was made.”
We have an opportunity here. We have an opportunity to bring our communities together. These are fishers who have fished side-by-side with First Nations for years, and we want to make sure they can continue to do that. We want to make sure that we are seeing positive outcomes for not only the First Nations but also for the industry. I strongly believe that the best way forward is through negotiations. We are having good conversations with First Nations and we will continue to do that, but this is definitely challenging. I often say if this was a simple solution, it would have been done 21 years ago when the Marshall Decision was made.
The other thing I need to address as well is that when you take out the vandals, criminals and people who have been intimidating and threatening, you have a lot of commercial harvesters who are making a living on the ocean, who are hardworking women and men, who want to make sure they can continue to do that side-by-side with Indigenous communities, and that is the goal to work towards.
What is your reaction to the findings of FCC and CAIA that the biggest barrier to Canadians buying seafood is perceived cost?
It was actually very interesting, the research that you did. It is funny because as someone who comes from the coast, when someone asks how to cook seafood, I do not understand that because it is so inherent in my life, it is so much part of who I am.
“By purchasing seafood they not only have a healthy, delicious choice, but that they are supporting our rural coastal communities that rely on the seafood industry for everything that they do.”
The research actually points to some questions we need to answer for people and these are things that we need to make sure that people like FCC and CAIA go forward with to continue to promote seafood, to show how easy it is to cook and how inexpensive in a lot of cases it is as well. There is maybe a preconceived notion out there in some cases that is not valid, so it is definitely important that we continue to make sure that people know what is available to them. That by purchasing seafood they not only have a healthy, delicious choice, but that they are supporting our rural coastal communities that rely on the seafood industry for everything that they do.
Do you have any closing comments?
I am happy to have these conversations with you. I think we have always had good, constructive conversations when we get together, but we have to continue to do everything we can to promote Canadian seafood.