Theresa Williams
Vice President - Fisher Bay Seafood
Part of the Spotlight on Canada’s Fisheries Industry

Multi-stakeholder Coordination Key to Strengthening our Fisheries

Takeaways

  1. The fisheries industry and all those within it strongly support strong science, good management, sensible regulations, and world-class sustainability practices since they are the foundations their future livelihood depends on.
  2. Access to the fish resource is key to providing the stability companies need to continue investing in their operations. Clarity must be provided to all stakeholders on this issue and systems must be in place to compensate those who lose their access through redistribution.
  3. Technology will revolutionize the way fisheries operators catch fish, process them and collect data for scientific purposes.

Action

The federal government must ensure security of access to the fishing resource and recognize the need for stability in West Coast fisheries. It should also establish a long-term multi-stakeholder advisory body that would engage in region-specific issues. The government must work with these advisory bodies to determine how all Canadians will share in the cost of loss of access to the fisheries resource due to marine conservation and reconciliation.


How do we keep the Canadian fisheries industry competitive and attractive to investors while also ensuring environmental protection? 

To balance a fishery’s economic growth with ocean protection we need meaningful consultation with multi-stakeholder groups over the long-term. So, the federal government must engage with all stakeholder groups in a genuine and purposeful way. It must recognize that those who want to see economic growth and sustainability over the long-term are the ones earning their livings in the fisheries industry and contemplating future investments.This includes First Nations, the provinces, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in each specific region, fishermen, processors, coastal communities, NGOs, fishery advisory bodies and industry associations. 

“The federal government must engage with all stakeholder groups in a genuine and purposeful way. It must recognize that those who want to see economic growth and sustainability over the long-term are the ones earning their livings in the fisheries industry and contemplating future investments.”

To encourage investment, fisheries participants need security of access to the fishing resource and recognition of the need for stability in that respect. The government should recognize First Nations’ existing participation in fisheries, commit to funding and staffing science, and have a rigorous regime of West Coast stock assessments. Finally, it should resist the urge to make knee-jerk political responses to high-profile environmental pressures. These are all positions that would demonstrate to investors that our industry is lucrative, sustainable and attractive. 

There is plenty of room for improvement in the area of meaningful consultation, particularly in the face of looming new regulations and mandated sustainability measures. 


What impact are new sustainability measures and standards having on the Canadian West Coast’s fisheries industry?

We see sustainability standards and measures as necessary and welcome tools. We use regulatory and sustainability measures to manage our fishery and promote its products. Regulations provide stability and a level playing field by requiring catch monitoring, reporting and compliance.

The management system, particularly for B.C. groundfish, enables our industry to be confident that fishing practices are consistent with conservation and protection. We are proud of our efforts around sustainability and take that message to the international market.

Everyone participating in the West Coast fisheries industry wants to protect the long-term viability of their livelihoods for the future. Fishers know that strong science, good management that uses sensible regulations, and world-class sustainability practices are the foundations supporting our fisheries.

“Fishers know that strong science, good management that uses sensible regulations, and world-class sustainability practices are the foundations supporting our fisheries.”

However, there are two sets of issues that we need to balance. The first is marine conservation targets and reconciliation, versus fisheries economics. In British Columbia (BC), 37% of our coast is protected, when the national target is only 10%. So, we are already carrying more than our fair share of the conservation target.

The second set of issues concerns what fishery closures will mean. What is the cost associated with changes that include no fishing? Are the lost livelihoods going to be shared equally among all Canadians, or will it be borne unfairly by commercial fisheries? Will there be compensation for lost access? These are questions we struggle with.

There are widespread economic benefits in British Columbia that stem from the commercial fishing industry. Many jobs surround the work of fishers themselves, most of whom live in coastal communities, remote or otherwise. These include ice houses, unloading sites, processing plants, trucking companies, grocery stores, shipyards, small equipment suppliers, net and gear suppliers, and many other small businesses that are significant employers in their own communities. 

These supporting entities represent essential infrastructure to the industry and are equally as vulnerable to instability, downturns in fisheries and loss of access to the resource as commercial fishers are.


How can we fairly manage access to Canada’s fish resources? If there are contrasting views held by different stakeholders, how do we find common ground?

With respect to marine conservation, reconciliation and increasing the participation of First Nations in the commercial fishing industry, we must find common ground—and this must include everyone. 

I was dismayed to read the Federal Minister of Fisheries comments about the relative economic unimportance of the commercial fisheries on the West Coast compared to recreational fishery, which he characterized as “probably larger.” Our coastal communities, which are predominantly First Nations—and vocal First Nations at that—would not be in agreement with him. This underscores a larger point: there is a lack of understanding from Ottawa about what goes on in our West Coast fisheries.

“Marine conservation and reconciliation are tied together. The government is using these tools to force redistribution of access to Canada’s fishery resources and control to First Nations.”

Marine conservation and reconciliation are tied together. The government is using these tools to force redistribution of access to Canada’s fishery resources and control to First Nations.That is a powerful statement and it is not a bad thing, but it will negatively impact those who currently have access to the resource and depend on it for their livelihoods. There is a policy void out of Ottawa that must be filled with answers around how those Canadians who are “restructured out of access” to their historical livelihood will be compensated.

The fishery industry’s stakeholder groups need to work collaboratively with Ottawa to implement changes that will lead to the best outcomes for all in terms of fairness and access to the marine fisheries industry.This must also include clarity on the outcomes for the companies and peoplethat will not survive that redistribution.

What technologies do you see revolutionizing the fisheries industry in the next years, and what must be done in Canada to incentivize its adoption?

There are many aspects of technological innovation within the world of fishing. These include mensuration equipment, which tells vessels where their net is, whether it is performing or not—basically, the equipment that enables us to fish more precisely and efficiently. There are other technologies around engine improvements that might eventually include electrically powered propulsion systems. We also employ information systems focused on product traceability, data management for DFO, and scientific requirements.

The potential exists to revolutionize every part of Canadian fisheries, from catch to science, through the use of species recognition software.Building on the model of facial recognition software, we see species recognition using cameras as completely possible, and this could change the entire fisheries industry. It could change the way we fish, the way we collect scientific data, how we monitor our catch, and even how we market our products. I estimate that we will start seeing this type of technology deployed within the next five years, starting with the big players who can afford to redeploy capital in technology, before the smaller ones eventually adopt it too.

“The potential exists to revolutionize every part of Canadian fisheries, from catch to science, through the use of species recognition software.”

Obviously, these kinds of technologies are expensive. And encouraging investment by Canadian fishing operators and companies into such technologies is dependent on investors’ confidence in the stability of access to the resource, on stock assessments and management, and their comfort in the industry’s sound management. This last point is connected to things like the existence of long-term, multi-stakeholder advisory bodies, and the industry being engaged with both provincial and the federal governments who must recognize that fishing is inherently a high-risk investment. The more we can remove the uncertainty of these investments through these policies and practices, the more likely it is that investments into the next generation of fishery technology will be made in Canada.


What is necessary to increase the export potential of Canada’s fisheries industry?

In my opinion, export potential comes back to the beginning of the supply chain, stability of access, and stock assessment. We need good management and long-term, collaborative, multi-stakeholder consultation that would supersede changes in government. We require all of these things to maintain our existing markets and to explore new ones.

It’s necessary to have the support of academia in promoting fishery science as a career. Further, we need the Fisheries Council of Canada (FCC) and the British Columbia Seafood Alliance to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to overcome international hurdles around inspection.

“Our own governments—provincial and federal—must promote the FCC’s efforts to market seafood harvested in Canada under the Canadian seafood brand. We need both stock assessments for management and clerical tools for maintaining international certifications.”

Our own governments—provincial and federal—must promote the FCC’s efforts to market seafood harvested in Canada under the Canadian seafood brand. We need both stock assessments for management and clerical tools for maintaining international certifications.Finally, we require the DFO to provide the work and support necessary for the industry to maximize its market potential. Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification is expensive and challenging to maintain, and we cannot do it on our own.