Biodiversity and Sustainable Fisheries Management Panel

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  • Jay Lugar Head of Fisheries - Marine Stewardship Council
  • Philippe Morel Assistant Deputy Minister - Aquatic Ecosystems, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)
  • Susanna Fuller Vice-President for Operations and Projects - Oceans North
  • Kris Vascotto Executive Director - Atlantic Groundfish Council


  1. Due to climate change, the fisheries industry must constantly adapt and must implement an ecosystem approach as well as marine spatial planning to help mitigate the impact on fish stocks.
  2. Canada does not have clear conservation objectives or indicators for achieving sustainable fisheries management, and all stakeholders must collaborate on a framework if we are to achieve these goals.
  3. Taxpayer dollars must go towards funding marine initiatives that are grounded in sustainability and are tied to international and national commitments on biodiversity protection.
  4. Stakeholders must also consider livelihoods, the rights of Indigenous people, and non-fishing human activity when studying ocean sustainability.
  5. The fisheries industry needs to communicate its successes in providing a low carbon emitting source of protein and decreasing fish mortality to the wider Canadian community.


Canada must set concrete goals established through collaboration between all stakeholders, including Indigenous groups, for the sustainable management of its fisheries. This will be necessary if Canada is to meet both its national and international commitments designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the blue economy.


Jay Lugar: This is the Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) and Panel on Biodiversity and Sustainable Fisheries Management (SFM). My name is Jay Lugar and I am the Head of Fisheries with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We are an international organization with operations in Canada.

I would like to welcome today our panelists. We have an engaging panel involving a good cross-section of people involved in the fishing industry and the conservation community in Canada, including a representative from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

Please join me in welcoming Philippe Morel, Assistant Deputy Minister for Aquatic Ecosystems at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

We also have with us Susanna Fuller, the Vice-President for Operations and Projects at Oceans North, an important conservation organization in Canada.

Finally, we have Kris Vascotto, the Executive Director of the Atlantic Groundfish Council, an important fishing industry association in Atlantic Canada and for the entire country. Welcome, everyone, I look forward to our conversation today.

Welcome to you all. Would you like to say hello?

Philippe Morel: I am very pleased to be here and for this panel with colleagues that we know well and are working in close relationships with.

Susanna Fuller: I am really looking forward to the discussion today. All of the issues that we will discuss are really important to Canada as we move forward on a progressive ocean agenda.

Kris Vascotto: I am very glad to be here and to get an opportunity to discuss these issues that are really quite relevant to all of our industries and all of our perspectives, and to bring them together to provide some sort of cohesive path forward.


Jay Lugar: Let us start first with some concepts about what sustainable fisheries are all about. Philippe, as the manager of fisheries in Canada, can you tell us how DFO would describe the main features of a sustainable fishery in Canada?

Philippe Morel: Fisheries management is very complex. DFO is dedicated to sustainable fisheries and I think we have progressed a lot in recent years on how we assess stocks, how we react, and what our precautionary approach is. This includes more protection under the Fisheries Act to protect the fish and to have a better risk management of the fish stock that vary due to fishing practices and climate change.

Right now, 70% of the fisheries are accredited under MSC certification, which is quite good. This does not mean that it is perfect, but we need to continue to do that. We have also applied a precautionary approach to most of our fish stocks, and the annual survey that we do does present more encouraging ways of managing—not in real time but year-to-year—the stocks that will certainly enable us in the future to have more sustainable fisheries.

Jay Lugar: Susanna, what do you think are the features of a sustainable fisheries industry?

Susanna Fuller: I have thought a lot about this, and I have built my career thinking about this issue and trying to act on it. I will agree with Philippe that Canada has come a long way in the last few years on upgrading its policy and law framework that would enable sustainable fisheries.

At the same time, the fishing industry is entirely dependent on whether or not we have fish in the water and one of the issues is that in Canada, we have iconic stock collapses, and cod is an example. About 25% of the stocks that DFO assesses are actually also assessed by a scientific body that determines whether or not something should be listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). From an economic perspective, our fisheries have never been worth more. At the same time we are really relying on lobster, shrimp, crab, and crustacean species, which are lower down on the food chain.

Getting to a sustainable fishery industry and management that actually makes sure that we have healthy populations across the food chain is really tricky because we often make decisions based on economics. The species we are fishing right now are more valuable than some of those that continue to be in decline. I think we are not quite at a balance point where we have a healthy ecosystem and it is very hard to rebuild fisheries unless we start right away as soon as we see decline. That takes hard socioeconomic decisions that impact people and communities, and I think that is the challenge that the department is faced with.

It is not always more money that is needed to rebuild fish stocks—it is actually hard decisions. The other piece is community sustainability but ultimately, we do need to do far more to rebuild our stewardship of the industry and stewardship of the environment. We have now more of the pieces in place through our legislation. The time is coming where we really have to implement those pieces.

“The Government of Canada does manage the fisheries for the public good and will be increasingly responsible to reporting on biodiversity outcomes.”

Susanna Fuller

Just as an example: we have had a bycatch policy since 2014, and many of the fisheries still do not have strong implementation of that bycatch policy. I fully recognize the role that MSC has played in the certification process. But that should not preclude Canada from implementing its own laws, policies, and sustainable frameworks, and we cannot rely on a third-party label. The Government of Canada does manage the fisheries for the public good and will be increasingly responsible to reporting on biodiversity outcomes.

 Jay Lugar: It takes solid management and engagement by industry and government in order to achieve the high standard of the MSC certification program. We are just reviewing all the good work done by the fisheries industry of Canada.

Kris, can you maybe describe some of the strengths that you see in the fisheries management program today and do you want to highlight any weaknesses?

Kris Vascotto: At the frontend we have to accept that from a resource perspective we have generally done quite well because of the precautionary approach that has been implemented by a very strong regulatory structure that exists in Canada, which is the admiration of much of the world. We have a very strong enforcement program and incredible investments in science and resources that have been able to try and produce science that considers the role of the environmental changes that we are going through.

Where this becomes especially relevant is when we talk about things like rebuilding plans and reference points. It allows us to use the most current science to assess where is it that we are actually trying to go. The ability for us to adapt to these changes in our policy and regulatory framework is one of the strengths that Canada has. As well, we have an incredible ability to cooperate among stakeholders, whether we are working with Susanna’s group, Oceans North, or with the department. Industry is also sitting there at the table, trying to collect information that will improve the science and ensure the sustainability of both not just the directed species that we are after but also those bycatch species that we might attract and the habitat that actually supports all of these species.

That type of cooperation is incredibly important. It allows you to get some degree of industry leadership. We are not just trying to do the same thing year after year, we are trying to improve our actions on the water to allow the fisheries to progress in a sustainable and positive fashion.

At the same time, as you mentioned, we do have a few weaknesses that we have to acknowledge. Generally, amongst a lot of the Canadian public, our successes our not shared. We seem to have a problem expressing to Canadians what a good job we are doing, how many stocks we have actually worked on, and how the fish and mortality level has dropped – these are what make the environment that is driving the shifts in these stocks.

In terms of the role of the fishery in something as simple as greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation—we have to understand that the wild-caught protein sectors actually are a very low greenhouse gas source of protein. We have a growing world, and this is something that we are going have to feed. This has to be communicated to the larger community.

We sometimes find that the regulatory structure might be a little bit too rigid to adapt to a change in environment. We all understand that we are in a state of transition due to climate change. We have to have a regulatory structure that allows us to understand that the productivity a species exhibited in the 1980s when we were in a cooler climate and different ecosystem function will no longer be attainable.

“We have a growing world, and this is something that we are going have to feed. This has to be communicated to the larger community.”

Kris Vascotto

We have to reflect those productivity values that are seen today when we are trying to manage either directed fishery or bycatch. We have to understand that we are looking at fisheries that can often be driven by very strong year classes and those classes will disappear as they move through. So yes, we have seen a transition to other things like shellfish and whatnot, but this is all part of what we have to do.

“In order for stewardship to exist, investment to be made, and renewal to happen, we need to know as an industry that we are going to be able to continue to access resources on a year-to-year basis.”

Kris Vascotto

The last weakness I will touch on is the stability of access and allocations. In order for stewardship to exist, investment to be made, and renewal to happen, we need to know as an industry that we are going to be able to continue to access resources on a year-to-year basis. That will get us to where we can go to. That is just an overview, though I could go on for a while on this.


Jay Lugar: One of the things we are talking about here is what the indicators are of a sustainable fisheries management system. DFO’s website says that about 96% of fisheries are described as being at sustainable levels of mortality, but we do not have biomass levels at where they once were. What is a good measure for sustainable fisheries management, Susanna?

Susanna Fuller: This is actually one of our problems in Canada—we do not have clear objectives and indicators of what we mean by sustainability, which is probably why we are talking about this now.

One of the challenges to the indicators we do have, which are within our precautionary approach framework and reference points, is that it is not that difficult to actually change a reference point so that something looks a little bit better than it used to. That to me is a problem. We are not measuring ecosystem health and we have a long way to go to institute that ecosystem approach, which is going to be challenging. As Kris said, we focus on a precautionary approach because we can narrow that down to reference points. I would say what we have not done is included that in our precautionary decision-making, and ecosystem-based decision-making process across the board very well.

“We are not measuring ecosystem health and we have a long way to go to institute that ecosystem approach, which is going to be challenging.”

Susanna Fuller

In terms of indicators, what we need to do, given that fisheries are still a wild resource and can contribute to our marine biodiversity, is to have a baseline of where we are now and understand where we are going in terms of both biomass and species, and figure out how we get there. That is the piece we are missing: that actual vision and indicators around marine biodiversity.

On sustainable fisheries we have those, but again, I do worry sometimes about our reference points. If we just moved it a little bit, all of sudden a stock would be in the cautious level as opposed to critical. I call it the limit reference point limbo, and we have to be very careful of that because in some cases we may not be able to bring stocks back to their former abundance—whether it is because of climate change or natural mortality—but we need to be able to talk about that and I do not think we are talking about that very much. We sometimes feel abject failure—at least, I do—of the fact that cod is still severely depleted, but let us have the harder conversations about what we really mean and how we can have a healthy ecosystem that supports coastal communities.

That is the conversation I think we need to have because ultimately, fisheries management manages people. It does not manage the ocean nor the fish.

Jay Lugar: Is Canadian fisheries management going into a broader ecosystem-based management system? Is that how we can move the dialogue over to biodiversity? Through ecosystem focus points?

Philippe Morel: We are increasingly incorporating the ecosystem approach in our decision-making. Just as an example, more than half of the fish stock assessments are incorporating environmental variables, and I think this is important and is quite an achievement. It is probably not where we want to be in five, ten, or more years, but it is certainly the right way. It is supported by the new Fisheries Act and now we have not only the will but also the authority and power to do so.

A sustainable fishery should be taking into consideration everything, which includes the economic and the social aspect of the ocean. Therefore, in terms of implementing marine special planning, we should think about the implementation of a Blue Economic Strategy, which will take into consideration fishing activities but also the sustainability of the ocean and I think that is a very important pillar for the Blue Economic Strategy.

Jay Lugar: Do you think that Canada has established targets around biodiversity that we can measure, and can we get there?

Kris Vascotto: That is an excellent question. We have often looked at the landscape and struggled to understand the target of biodiversity that we are trying to hit. We often hear the term thrown around rather loosely, but biodiversity is such a broad definition. It includes plankton, fish, kelp, corals, sponges, worms, and everything from basically the top to the bottom, including birds. We have to find ourselves some way to be able to quantify biodiversity and understand what we are trying to get to. If we can agree on what the target is, then we can start talking about a path to get there.  We approach things in different ways—some species may require a strong spatial protection system, others may require a very strong regulatory system and construct.

“We have often looked at the landscape and struggled to understand the target of biodiversity that we are trying to hit.”

Kris Vascotto

At the end of the day, achieving the general aims and goals of diversity has to be balanced with sustainable food production. Science and the academic literature have demonstrated that we can get there by balancing both of these pieces. We have to make sure that we are allowing some harvesting activities to take place and at the same time that we are protecting those important pieces of biodiversity.

However, we are stuck trying to understand what it is that we are trying to protect. For instance, if we talk about some spatial management measures, we tend to look towards the bottom where there are corals and sponges. That is a small component to the ecosystem. Fisheries tend to operate on fairly high energy environments that are void of much of these elements that we are talking about. This also comes down to a realization that the entire ocean is not necessarily the same. There are vast areas out there that if you put a camera down, you will not see all that much. Those areas are not considered incredibly diverse environments but there is inherent value in the biodiversity that is there that requires some degree of protection and conservation.

At the end of the day, understanding the targets and the path would help all of us out and getting that clarity through these types of conversations will be to the benefit of all of the people at the table.

Jay Lugar: Thinking about the application of identifying targets but also delivering on how we achieve those targets, are we looking at spatial management, identifying areas, or is it beyond that? Is carving off parts of the ocean managing people?

Susanna Fuller: I used to just want to work on sustainable fisheries and over the past several years, I realized that we have limitations to actually being able to manage human activity.

We did not used to be able to fish everywhere and I think we need to get back to that. We revere spatial protection on land but it is equally as important in the ocean. They provide a place for the ocean to be free from a lot of human impact and industrial activity in order to recover and be resilient to climate change. They act as control areas where we can study the impact of human activity and the reduction of threats. I do support spatial protections but at the same time, those have to be supported by communities and the industry. If it is not done together, they will not be effective and so that is really key.

Canada has put itself forward as a champion of 30% of the ocean. This has to be well done and in places that mean something to people. We cannot shut down some areas to fishing and then open up to oil and gas, or shut down oil and gas in some areas and then open up to trawling.  We have to be consistent because that is the only way we will gain the trust of Canadians and the international community that we are doing a good job.

“We cannot shut down some areas to fishing and then open up to oil and gas, or shut down oil and gas in some areas and then open up to trawling.”

Susanna Fuller

Spatial protections are one consideration, but it is not the only one. There is another 70% of the ocean out there where fishing is not the only impact. That is where we have to make sure we are implementing sustainable fisheries management measures that include timed or area closures, by-catch measures, and all the basics of fisheries management that I think we are attempting to do. A target like a number of spatial protection areas is an easy political thing where it is relatively easy to get governments to sign onto. It is also easier to achieve than bringing our fisheries back to a sustainable yield. We committed to that as far back as 2002 and we are still not there. Managers are looking for things that they can achieve because fisheries management is hard and there are a lot of disappointments along the way. Spatial protection is one goal that we can actually get to in a reasonable amount of time. Furthermore, it is multi-stakeholder and has to be.

Jay Lugar: The task of measuring and achieving sustainable fisheries management is highly complex and not easy. Listening to the panelists speak about the ways that the government needs to step up and do some identification of these targets and help the industry to get there—is this something that DFO is up to?

Philippe Morel: Yes, it is significantly challenging, and as I mentioned just protecting an area is one thing—but you need to make sure that you have clear conservation objectives and that they will contribute to the health of the bioregion.

We separate the ocean by 13 bioregions, including marine protected areas, marine refuges, and other types of protected areas to support biodiversity and stocks but there are other activities that are happening outside of these protected areas that must also be taken into consideration. Some are not in conflict with the sustainability of the oceans and others may be better if they follow a certain framework where the impact of the activities is reduced to a minimum while also taking to consideration the economic viability of coastal communities and a balanced use of the oceans.

“You need to make sure that you have clear conservation objectives and that they will contribute to the health of the bioregion.”

Philippe Morel

The fishing sector is certainly a major interest of the department and currently the notion is to not only allow the right to fish but also the right to fish in a sustainable manner so that our sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters will also be able to fish in the future. On top of that, you have the other challenge of climate change where stocks migrate to another place and create a new environment.

“How I think we will meet the 30% target of ocean protection is by working with provinces, stakeholders, and communities to make sure that what we protect is meaningful. It is not about drawing boxes in the oceans but drawing the right boxes in the ocean.”

Philippe Morel

As we said earlier, it is very complex, and we are adapting. The only way to really succeed is to work with stakeholders and make sure that everyone understands. How I think we will meet the 30% target of ocean protection is by working with provinces, stakeholders, and communities to make sure that what we protect is meaningful. It is not about drawing boxes in the oceans but drawing the right boxes in the ocean. We work with some of people in the panel today on achieving that an it is a great success. The challenge for 2030 is something else altogether but I am pretty sure it is something we can reach.


Jay Lugar:  Adaptive management is needed because stocks are continuously changing, and the ocean is very dynamic. One of those drivers of change is climate change, and many of us are trying to see exactly how it will impact our plans for management and how can we future proof our plans.

Is it simple enough to understand how climate change may be impacting our biodiversity or is understanding climate change another very difficult, complex task?

Susanna Fuller: It is a difficult and complex task but that does not mean we should not do something about it. From a fisheries perspective, there are a couple of ways that climate change can impact and has been impacting sustainability. One is the basic level of productivity in the ocean, and that is something that we do measure fairly well and have long-term data sets on. One example is the phytoplankton in the ocean, which are the equivalent of trees, where they are a source of productivity which will go on to feed other species up the food chain.

We need to make sure we are not taking out more fish than our primary productivity can actually support over a time period. It is really important to get to that point and to think about how that is where we need to go. We also will see some species being more affected by temperature change than others, so some will be resilient, and some will be less so. Understanding the vulnerability of those species is critical. We also have the issue of ocean acidification, which is when the ocean gets so acidic that species that do rely on calcium, such as many of our shellfish species, not to mention phytoplankton and diatoms, will not be able to form their shells. Right now, Canada is already experiencing that in certain hotspots. It is happening everywhere and that is going to be an issue. Another issue is less resilient species. We know lobster are moving further north and they do get different kinds of diseases in the warmer waters.

“We need to make sure we are not taking out more fish than our primary productivity can actually support over a time period.”

Susanna Fuller

It is going to be hard and complex, which is why the management response is to figure out how we can buffer the resilience of our fish stocks in our ocean to be able to manage these changes. At the same time, we need to be able to predict as much as possible what fisheries can continue and where they can continue in a sustainable manner. It is going to be hard, but fisheries management is not easy at the outset. One positive thing is that the fishing industry is quite adaptable. It is an industry that can change. Having a clear vision of what that means and how we actually respond to climate change is going to be very important.

“We could do much more to incentivize lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emission vessels, engines, and fuel sources.”

Susanna Fuller

I have not heard a lot about the fishing industry being included in some of our greenhouse gas reduction incentives and I think we actually have a lot to do there. We could do much more to incentivize lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emission vessels, engines, and fuel sources, and that actually might be a really interesting way of getting more industry uptake on a sustainable measure that is not always about the catch.

Jay Lugar: Kris, that is a bit of a challenge to an industry that has a lot of difficulty responding to climate change and moving stocks. You spoke earlier about the need of some access and allocation from the government of Canada. Do you see climate change impacting that?

Kris Vascotto: Climate change is the new reality. It is literally a one-way trip, so to speak, that we are on in the near future. All of the models are telling us this. What we are trying to do is very much like what we are trying to do with COVID-19—we are trying to flatten the curve. There are profound impacts because of climate change. We know that species are changing in distribution and that productivity of individual species are changing. Does that create challenges on access and allocation? Of course, it does. If somebody for years was fishing cod in Southwest Nova Scotia and that stock is no longer able to be commercially targeted, then we get into a situation where that enterprise now needs to understand what they are going to be able to do.

Now, we have a couple of tools for that, such as the rationalization of the fleet, which has been one of the cornerstones of the success of some of the sectors that I have worked with, where they were able to rationalize after the moratoriums of the 1990s. Hundreds of vessels disappeared in favor of a handful of vessels that are still fishing, and that was facilitated by good policy and good regulation, which is also part of a fairly nimble management system that can respond to these changes. In order to prevent those types of conflicts, what we need is a system that allows for that rationalization to occur.

On the other side, new opportunities may be coming in in. For instance, we may see a strong year class for redfish or the blackbelly rosefish could be moving up. These are new opportunities that can be accessed if the management system and the regulatory system are nimble enough to allow that to happen. We need for the enterprises to be able to work together towards reducing capacity if need be. But yes, climate change is going to lead to profound conflicts and questions on access and allocation. That is where we look to the regulator to help us to ensure that five or ten-year investment timeframes can still exist while we are looking to reinvest, renew, and bring in new demographics into the industry.

“Climate change is going to lead to profound conflicts and questions on access and allocation.”

Kris Vascotto

With that certainty, we can do it, without that certainty we run into very strong problems of planning. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions from vessels, we are seeing new tier-3 fuel standards being introduced for new builds on vessels. We just had a vessel enter the fleet in Newfoundland, the Calvert, which is a green vessel designed to recover energy from when it shoots the trawler and brings the trawl back in. These are steps that are being taken to try and reduce the carbon footprint of the fishery. It is true that industry does innovate and try to respond to these pressures but we also need to know that we will have access to resources to allow the finance and investment part to happen so we can adapt to those pressures.

Jay Lugar: Philippe, do you think that the Canadian management system, including your ability to manage ecosystems which is your portfolio, has that level of nimbleness?

Philippe Morel: There is the desire to move in that direction and we all acknowledge that it is really complex and sometimes we are on ground that is more uncertain than we’d hoped for. In these situations, we need to take risks or assess the risks on how we manage the fisheries. The question of taking risks is probably more around making sure that we make the right decision and that we have a good level of comfort regarding the impact of certain activities on ocean sustainability or the fisheries industry. Our approach is to not be risk averse, neither is it to be overly permissive. Risk management, to us, is knowing what the potential impacts are and seeing if we can address that.

The question of CO2 is an important one that was raised by Kris and Susanna earlier. There are many things that can be done, and we have some programs that we are advancing on that front, though we are probably not where a lot of people would want us to be. But there are some technologies to reduce CO2 from ships or from any production from the fisheries industry or ocean industries and we are moving towards that. All that needs to be taken into consideration.

“Even humans have to adapt to human activity. Having an ecosystem approach is one of the solutions, while marine spatial planning is another one. We need to adapt constantly.”

Philippe Morel

Just look at what happened over the last three or four years with the North Atlantic right whale and krill moving up. There has been a significant change in how we manage fisheries due to that. The St. Lawrence is also a good example of the potential impacts of human activity. Even humans have to adapt to human activity. Having an ecosystem approach is one of the solutions, while marine spatial planning is another one. We need to adapt constantly and probably more frequently than we used to.


Jay Lugar: What do you think is the role of consumers and their buying habits on meeting sustainable fisheries targets? Is there a role for the consumer in affecting the habits and practices that we in the fishing industry in Canada follow?

Susanna Fuller: I have a daughter who prefers to eat a dozen oysters every Saturday for breakfast and so I do think a lot about the role of that consumption.

For a long time, I did work on consumer-facing programs with SeaChoice. I look at the consumer poll as a kind of long end of the chain and the farther away you get from the source, the less impact that force actually has. Consumer awareness is important and has increased over COVID-19 with more people caring about the environment. There is a role for consumers but it is not a critical role.

A few years ago, I and some colleagues did an assessment of the Marine Stewardship Council and where change actually took place as a result of that certification. We found that the biggest changes happened between the assessment and the actual certification but not afterwards. So, I switched my focus to Canadian fisheries management, implementing our existing sustainable fisheries framework, and improving the Fisheries Act because I think it is at the state level where there needs to be more responsibility. It is not to say that consumers are not important—it is just that an incredible amount of money can go into trying to get people to shift their attention to care about something, but in Canada, quite frankly, we do not eat that much seafood. Canadians eat much less seafood than Europe and the U.S. and we export about 70% of our seafood in Canada. When it comes to Canadian consumers, what they care about is things like plastic in the ocean.

“Canadians eat much less seafood than Europe and the U.S. and we export about 70% of our seafood in Canada.”

Susanna Fuller

The consumer piece is important but it is not the be all, end all, and I do not think it is the most important thing, particularly not for a nation that relies so much on exports to markets that are pleased to get fresh fish from uncontaminated waters. That is the most important piece.

At the same time, Canadians do care about biodiversity in our ocean. We did a survey last year and found that Atlantic Canadians feel that oceans are vital to our economy, but they also value them for their natural beauty and the experiences they provide.


Jay Lugar: What are some actionable steps that government is taking that can bring people to the table to help us achieve some of these biodiversity and sustainable fisheries management goals?

Philippe Morel: There are some other steps that we can take to enforce the relationship with stakeholders. With province and industry as well as with marine spatial planning, we need to make sure that we are aligned in the same direction and agree on the general objectives of how we manage the ocean. We are open to have suggestions from stakeholders on how we can enhance our relationship—things like reporting, transparency on decisions, and sharing science. We are not against doing that and we need to find ways to determine what we need to share, how we will need to share, and how we can better inform of our decisions.

I want to emphasize the importance of Indigenous people, and how they should be a part of the decision and should be understood on their position on fisheries. Indigenous populations are big contributors to the fishing industry as well as to ocean sustainability. We were referring to marine refuges or marine protected areas earlier and Indigenous peoples care and want to be involved in guarding and monitoring those areas to make sure that we respect our engagement towards protecting those spaces for the sustainability of the ocean, which is more powerful for them than for us bureaucrats and federal offices.

“Indigenous populations are big contributors to the fishing industry as well as to ocean sustainability.”

Philippe Morel

We need to learn a lot from that relationship, which has become better and will continue. I sincerely hope it will be even better. The people that represent these groups are rights-holders and they need to be part of decision-making and collaboration with industry. They need to be part of the industry for the future and sustainability of our oceans and fisheries industry.

Jay Lugar: There are many people whose livelihood depends on a healthy, productive ocean. Those may be Indigenous harvesters as well as commercial harvesters, including Indigenous commercial harvesters.

What is the fishing industry doing to work collaboratively with these other voices in making sure that sustainable fisheries management and the biodiversity targets are met?

Kris Vascotto: We do have some existing mechanisms in place that help us get to where we have to go. We have advisory committees that are in these formal settings where we can sit down as a multi-stakeholder group that includes those in the commercial fishing industry, environmental organizations, non-government organizations, and First Nations, allowing us to sit in a room and have a conversation to make recommendations together about what should happen with the fisheries.

That is how those discussions begin but let us not forget a lot of discussions actually happen away from those tables as well. Once we build that type of relationship structure, we can still have a conversation with other individuals, such as the ones that are on this panel, to discuss something like a marine protected area or an objective reference point. At the same time, we can discuss with other stakeholders where their interests or their pressures may be. A lot of this discussion is already happening and thankfully, it is facilitated by the department in some of these larger advisory processes that are quite transparent and open.

“When it comes to protecting biodiversity, we are not necessarily all working against one another—we are working towards something.”

Kris Vascotto

Overall, a lot of this comes down to informing Canadians at large of the job that we are doing. When it comes to protecting biodiversity, we are not necessarily all working against one another—we are working towards something, and I would say that we are part of the way there. To be able to, as a unified stakeholder group, tell Canadians at large that story would do us great benefit overall in ensuring that we can move forward on some of these steps by defining the path to get there and knowing where we are trying to get to.


Jay Lugar: I would like each of you to, in your own words, answer the question of reconciliation with regards to the blue economy and the need for biodiversity protection.

Susanna Fuller: Fundamentally, the blue economy has to be advanced in a way that supports biodiversity protection and environmental sustainability, including reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. If we do not address that, and I can say that from what is happening in Nova Scotia today, we will not be able to get to a lot of other important issues that we need to address together for our oceans.

I agree with what Kris said that relationships are vital, because we can check in with each other when we know each other. The fisheries are the most political file in this country because they involve hearts, minds, resources, jobs, and the environment all together.

When we move forward with the blue economy, we need to keep in mind that any taxpayer’s dollars that go towards funding marine initiatives should be grounded in sustainability and be tied to our international and national commitments on biodiversity protection. Otherwise, we end up fighting industries on government priorities, which should not happen.

“When we move forward with the blue economy, we need to keep in mind that any taxpayer’s dollars that go towards funding marine initiatives should be grounded in sustainability.”

Susanna Fuller

I do think we need a bigger vision, and in that vision we need some simple things to achieve. That 30% goal has allowed a lot of us to focus on something that maybe we came to reluctantly, but at least we are focusing on it now.

We need equivalent focuses like whether or not we are going to rebuild forage fish, whether we are going to restore certain amount fish habitats, or whether we are going to start considering how our marine environment contributes to natural solutions to climate change from protecting eel grass beds and kelp beds to making sure that we can be resilient to climate change.

We need a few big picture things that are embedded in that blue economy framework, otherwise they will be seen as separate and we will continue to have our economy and our environment separated in the ocean, when it is actually so completely linked. People talking to each other is vital to move those things forward.

Kris Vascotto: Part of growing our ocean economy as a whole really does rely on biodiversity protection and sustainable fisheries management. Understanding that, we also have to incorporate a realistic expectation of what sustainable fisheries management and biodiversity protection actually means, in light of a system that is in the middle of a transition between what was and what will be.

As we get better science advice out there to tell us what this new end point is going to be, we can start providing the targets and a path to actually achieve that. That is how the blue economy is actually going to grow in Canada, and we will then be able to produce seafood products that will be destined for the top shelf around the world because they will be acknowledged for not just being sustainable because of a third party system, but also acknowledged for low greenhouse gas emissions and as contributing to the larger targets that we are trying to achieve, which are set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), or any of these larger groups that have established worldwide targets for us to get to.

Philippe Morel: The blue economy is to make sure that on all three coasts of our country we have the potential for economic activities and economic growth but in respect of the use of the ocean by Indigenous people as well as to make sure that all the pillars of the sustainable strategy are in place.

That means that yes, Indigenous rights are respected, industry respects the ecosystem, we have a comprehensive ecosystem approach, and we offer oceans where marine safety is also important for everyone that goes by the ocean.

There are several programs that are being put in place or are already in place that will build up to the blue economy. Certainly, adding several departments internally that play a key role on the oceans, working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada on defining the blue economy’s big achievements, and having the provinces and the industry on marine spatial planning implement priority bioregions are other big accomplishments. The marine conservation target that we surpassed for 2020 and that we will reach for 2025 and 2030 of up to 30% of protection of the ocean is another big accomplishment. All that makes sense when each of these pillars and objectives are aligned and speak to each other, and the objective of the discussion today was certainly a good way of demonstrating that it is feasible.

Jay Lugar: This panel has demonstrated the collaboration necessary to identify and develop the action plans so that we as a fishing industry, as a government, and as a Canadian society can lead the world on achieving some of these biodiversity targets.

Canada was an early signatory and a developer of the Convention on Biological Diversity and that is something we did not bring up today, but I think we can now re-establish our place and demonstrate that these targets can be achieved through economic and social collaboration, as well as by making sure that coastal communities and livelihoods are in place.

Jay Lugar
Head of Fisheries - Marine Stewardship Council

Jay Lugar is the Head of Fisheries for the Marine Stewardship Council, where he formerly served as Program Director for Canada. Jay holds a MA in International Development from McGill University.

Philippe Morel
Assistant Deputy Minister - Aquatic Ecosystems, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)

Philippe Morel is the Assistant Deputy Minister for Aquatic Ecosystems at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). He is responsible for the Department’s programs and program policies related to ocean planning and conservation, fish and fish protection, species at risk and aquatic invasive species.

Susanna Fuller
Vice-President for Operations and Projects - Oceans North

Susanna Fuller is the Vice-President for Operations and Projects at Oceans North. Her work focuses on conservation outcomes in sustainable fisheries and spatial protections in Atlantic Canada and the Arctic. She holds a PhD from Dalhousie University.

Kris Vascotto
Executive Director - Atlantic Groundfish Council

Kris Vascotto is the Executive Director of the Atlantic Groundfish Council.  The Atlantic Groundfish Council represents year-round groundfish harvesters in Atlantic Canada.