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- Growth potential for the fisheries sector is in the value rather than the volume of a product harvest. Considerable investments in cutting-edge technology will help to increase this value.
- Fisheries companies require stability of access to the resource the industry is based on in order to continue investing in modernizing their fleet and operations.
- Shifts in the environment due to climate change are a risk to the industry’s future. Government and sector leaders need to take a more flexible approach to environmental protection to ensure long-term sustainability.
The fisheries sector requires policy certainty from the government related to reconciliation, marine conservation and climate change so that businesses can have confidence to invest in the future. Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs increased resources, and the government must consult with stakeholders in a meaningful way so that the best ideas for improvements to the industry can come forward.
Where is the fisheries industry growth potential and how can its profitability be improved?
Our growth potential is really about value. There is growing global demand for protein, including fish and seafood. But our wild capture fisheries are not growing significantly by volume, so we need to get the most value out of our harvests.
A prime example is Northern cod. Mistakes made in the past and environmental pressures led to the collapse of that fishery. If and when it comes back, it cannot be harvested in the same way because we won’t get the value out of it that we should. We need to harvest it differently to maintain its high quality from when the fish is caught to when it is served. That means we must invest in new gear and new storage equipment on vessels, which is a challenge for inshore fisheries that have less capital capacity to invest in that equipment.
“Our growth potential is really about value.”
Some of our fisheries are seasonal, so we have to sell those products when we have them. This often coincides with other jurisdictions that are selling a competitive alternative, so we might not get the best price for those products. If we had better cold storage capabilities, we could possibly lengthen the market and get better prices on the shoulders of the season. Hopefully we can get more value that way.
What are some of the biggest challenges for the sector right now?
One of the biggest challenges is the policy framework that the fishery sector operates under. If fishery companies do not have stability of access to the resource that underlies our industry, there will be no investment in the future. That will haunt us later, because the industry will become stale and less competitive, resulting in a huge impact on communities.
Another challenge is sustainability. Sustainability is engrained in the sector. We are dealing with a natural resource, so if the industry does not protect it, we are only jeopardizing our own future profitability. But we need to think about all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic—all three are intertwined.However, the environment is where the biggest issues are.
“We need to think about all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic—all three are intertwined.”
Climate change is affecting our oceans: as the water temperature gets warmer carbon levels in the ocean increase making it more acidic. This is affecting the distribution of individual species. Lobsters are migrating north, for example, while shrimp are migrating south in certain areas. The same applies for other shellfish and groundfish—the distribution of these species is changing. With shellfish, the acidity of the water will impact the firmness of the shell, which could affect the quality of their meat decades into the future.
To protect the environment we tend to use static measures such as marine protected areas, but as things in the ocean change spatially it becomes clear that this model might not work in the long-term. We need to take a more flexible approach to environmental protection, and that’s a challenge. It is critical that we are up to date on our individual stock assessments, and when a particular stock has declined we must know how to bring it back to an abundant level. These issues have economic implications for the industry and social implications for the communities that depend on it.
How is technology disrupting fisheries and what barriers to innovation exist?
There is a lot going on related to innovation and new technologies in the Canadian fishery industry, and I am pleased about that. Canada’s fishery companies are always looking to increase their productivity and efficiency. A new vessel has been launched in the Canadian fishing fleet and it is a prime example of how new designs can increase efficiency by minimizing drag and optimizing fuel consumption. Also, new radar and optical technologies now allow us to see the ocean floor, so we can determine if a good school of fish is there and if the area should be fished. We are also seeing the integration of regenerative systems, such as winches on trawls that create a hybrid system to generate electricity. Other disruptions include automated equipment—both in production plants and on vessels—and optical sensors. The advancements mean that now, every step of the production process can be automated; gutting, heading and filleting the fish can all be done with automated precision. All these technological improvements mean less fuel usage, more efficiency, and a much more competitive sector.
“All these technological improvements mean less fuel usage, more efficiency, and a much more competitive sector.”
However there are still issues related to the adoption of these technologies. When you can only use a technology for 12 or 16 weeks out of the year, the payback equation is completely different than if you will use it year round. This makes the hurdle to investment much more challenging. Even if the technology is proven, it is difficult to justify economically. If some of the emerging technologies are applied to other sectors—like oil and gas, for example—then maybe the technology can be brought to scale, driving the price down and making it more economic for our fisheries.
How important is it to transform the image of the sector to attract young talent? What are you doing to seek out and develop the industry’s future leaders?
The perception and image of our sector is certainly one of our biggest challenges. Many see the industry as old and antiquated; they don’t want to be out on a vessel for weeks at a time and they don’t see the inshore operation as profitable. Our processing plants are cool and wet, and many young people do not want to work in that environment.
However, we primarily operate in small coastal communities, and are among the best opportunities for employment in those communities. Still, it is a challenge to attract labour with the skillset to match the advancing technology in the sector. The jobs of yesterday are not the jobs of tomorrow, and the Canadian fisheries industry needs people with advanced skills in science and other technical fields.
“The jobs of yesterday are not the jobs of tomorrow, and the Canadian fisheries industry needs people with advanced skills in science and other technical fields.”
The Fisheries Council of Canada has launched the Future Leaders Canada Program, as part of the solution to this challenge. We are looking at how to develop management teams for the sector. Our program exposes individuals to various aspects of the fisheries industry’s supply chain that wouldn’t be seen in day-to-day operations. The program also broadens participants’ network across the supply chain and into the US, which is our major export market. We are definitely doing our part to attract young talent but there is still more work that needs to be done.
What must the government do to balance appropriate regulation and economic growth?
The key thing the government can do is provide clear signals to businesses so that they can have confidence to invest in the future. However, the government needs to consult with stakeholders in meaningful ways and be open-minded so that the best ideas can come forward, regardless of where they come from.
“We also need policy certainty from the government so that stability of access is ensured in the face of reconciliation, marine conservation, the allocation of quotas across different fleets, and climate change.”
We also need policy certainty from the government so that stability of access is ensured in the face of reconciliation, marine conservation, the allocation of quotas across different fleets, and climate change. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is trying its best but it needs more resources. This is especially pertinent considering the increase in global trade protectionism. We need to stay focused on market access capabilities within the government to protect our fisheries sector.