Martin Sullivan
CEO & Co-Chair - Ocean Choice International
Part of the Spotlight on Canada’s Fisheries Industry

Stability of Access to the Fishery Resource is Crucial to Investment

Takeaways

  1. Regulations and standards have resulted in a shift towards a more conservative and sustainable mindset for the fishery sector.
  2. Stability of access to the fishery resource is crucial in order to incentivize investment.
  3. New technologies and innovations across the sector are reshaping the fisheries industry’s operations and impacts, and will hopefully attract young talent to it.

Action

The federal government should set aside political considerations in order to increase stability of access and allocations of Canada’s fish and seafood resource. A stable regulatory regime is essential to the sustainability of the resource and to ensure basic investment in the development of technology that is critical for the industry’s success.


How do you perceive new standards and regulations in Canada’s fishery and seafood industry, and how have they evolved over the years?

Sustainability certification in Canada’s fisheryindustry began more than a decade ago, and it is mostly driven by our consumer base. It really began with British and German retailers, and expanded from there. North American retail and food service companies now have targets for certified seafood. Since then there has been a growing movement—people want to know where their seafood comes from and that it is sustainably harvested. 

Access to fish is the Canadian fisheryindustry’s most important asset, so we must lead the way in improving sustainability by actively engaging responsible standards and regulations. We also work closely with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) as well as third parties like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in the certification management process.

“It’s no longer about volume, but rather about how we get the most value and maximize the return from the resource, with a view to its long-term sustainability.”

There are a lot of success stories out there. For example, we have seen fisheries close in the early 1990s, reopen with an MSC certification, and operate at the same productivity level as they did in the 1980s. There are still other fisheries that haven’t reopened, but the attitudes surrounding sustainability have changed dramatically from the 1980s. It’s no longer about volume, but rather about how we get the most value and maximize the return from the resource, with a view to its long-term sustainability.

An example of how the regulations have changed is the percentage of the stock’s biomass that you can harvest. Unlike some past practices of overexploitation, many of todays fisheries have stock assessment models that are used to set sustainable harvest rates for fishing. We have to be more conservative about how much we take from the resource to ensure that it is sustainable in the long-term. We also see closures of certain species during spawning periods, where you may not fish for a period up to three months. These measures are designed to protect the stock in the long-term while maintaining a reasonable harvest level to sustain businesses and communities. There is a more conservative mindset among the industry than there used to be—this has changed dramatically in the last 30 years but particularly in the last 10 to 15 years.


What are your views on stability of access to the fishing resource? What are the impacts of having stable access for companies, Indigenous groups and the industry as a whole?

Our industry’s basic stability depends on access to the resource. It’s every company’s most valuable asset. In Canada we have different coasts with different fisheries, but there still needs to be certainty around access in all of them. Whether you’re a small boat fisherman in Newfoundland or a large company, this is a crucial issue. Access to the resource is a basic requirement if you are investing in the fishery.

We need to be honest with ourselves about how we can grow and invest in the industry in the future, and the basis of that investment is stability of access to the resource and quota allocations. When we start playing with that, it hurts the industry overall. We need to have a stable regulatory regime in order for the industry to grow and for the resource to be developed responsibly.

“Most of the people we speak with in Indigenous communities want increased access, but they agree on the basic principle of what we call a “willing-buyer willing-seller” model that recognize existing fishing rights.”

Most of the people we speak with in Indigenous communities want increased access, but they agree on the basic principle of what we call a “willing-buyer willing-seller” model that recognize existing fishing rights.Our umbrella groups are supportive of that and discussions are currently ongoing around the country on this topic.

If you have fair value you can have true reconciliation where Indigenous groups who have a legitimate claim to the resource are getting more of it while also recognizing the rights and interests of existing participants. Stability of access is critical for any fisherman. What else is there? How can you plan your business and how can you invest without it? This is the single biggest inhibitor to investing in the sector at all levels. Stability of access is the most critical thing we need to protect so people can invest in the future of Canada’s fishery industry.


What technological innovations are impacting the fishery industry and changing the way it operates?

For those not in the fishery sector, the prevailing attitude is that it’s an old-fashioned industry, but that has changed dramatically over time.

How we fish today is completely different. For example, the new vessel we are building is outfitted with green technology, automation and advancements in processing. We also have projects looking at smart fishing—how to have better catch rates with less environmental impact. We can now look at bottom mapping to better understand areas for a more predictive fishing model. For example, the entire area of the scallop fishery is bottom mapped, so we know how to target the scallop beds and harvest only that resource, which is much easier on the environment. We’ve also introduced new technologies for new species, like sea cucumber, which is produced with advanced processing lines and automated drying technology. 

“Stability of access is the most critical thing we need to protect so people can invest in the future of Canada’s fishery industry.”

This level of innovation is present across the sector. If you go into a fish plant today versus thirty years ago, there is a dramatic difference. Today’s fish plants are highly technical and highly-automated food production facilities. We are also beginning to see more robotics in seafood. There is now an x-ray technology that can scan a fish, determine the location of its bones, and send the image to waterjet cutters that would then remove the bones. There are plenty of innovations happening in fisheries across Canada. 


How is the industry attracting young talent?

To attract fresh talent, the industry needs to be competitive with what other industries are offering. In our seasonal business, it is hard to attract young talent and the average age is getting older each year. There is very little new blood coming in. 

On our ships there are plenty of high-tech and engineering positions, but an employee would have to go to sea for three weeks or a month at a time before coming home for the same period. We have an easier time recruiting people for work on our vessels than we do for our processing plants because that offers the opportunity to earn more income and it is a year-round job. Young people make economic choices, so they will only join the fisheries industry if they think they can make a good living. 

“This will be a main challenge for us as an industry: How do we give new talent competitive career choices?”

We have to make sure the structure of our industry allows us to employ people with good incomes on a year-round basis. This is a challenge because of the seasonality in fisheries—there are certain species we can only harvest for four months at a time. We require new ways to ensure interesting jobs for a longer duration.

As we see the industry develop with the integration of more innovation and technology, that will attract and excite young people. This will be a main challenge for us as an industry: How do we give new talent competitive career choices?


How is the rise of climate change awareness impacting the industry?

The climate is a difficult issue to deal with. At a recent meeting of The Fisheries Council of Canada, we had speakers talking about the impact of climate change on fisheries. We see some signs of climate change already—fish species showing up in waters where they have never been before. It is an issue that the leaders and the industry are very conscious of and absolutely concerned about. As the impact becomes more known, people will become more concerned. We will have to figure it out because climate change will affect how we view fisheries management systems, how we look at marine protected areas, and how we deal with the impacts of a dramatic change in the future.

“Climate change will affect how we view fisheries management systems, how we look at marine protected areas, and how we deal with the impacts of a dramatic change in the future.”