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Beth Mason
CEO - Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment
Part of the Spotlight on the Ocean Economy

Research-Industry Integration: The Path to a Sustainable and Successful Ocean Economy

Takeaways

  1. Canada’s fisheries and aquaculture industries should take advantage of the opportunity the world’s growing population and its rising demand for protein represents, through diversity of supply.
  2. Specific opportunities for Canada’s ocean economy include applying technology to improve our fisheries processes, value creation from fishing by-products, water purification technologies, and land-based aquaculture.
  3. One of Canada’s competitive advantages in the ocean economy is in environmental management and the purity of our ocean environment, which must be maintained.

Action

To capitalize on these large global ocean economic opportunities, governments must create the business and regulatory environment for enterprise and business to thrive. We must also be very creative in our financing and support of PPP developments so that we fill the gap from bench to reality.


How can Canada reconcile the growth of our ocean economy with the preservation of healthy and sustainable ocean ecosystems?

Balancing resource utilization with sustainability is a challenge and will continue to be one. So, the debate really revolves around how we manage that challenge. At this point, we are not going to stop the changes in climate that have already occurred, but we can better understand them. One aspect of the Ocean Supercluster involves using advances in technology to improve the monitoring and thereby understanding of our ocean ecosystems.

I come from an industry background and firmly believe that the industries on the ground have the best people to achieve sustainability goals. In fisheries, for example, we have companies with large ocean-going vessels that are equipped to monitor changes in the ocean environment, and they are actively engaged in doing so. Ocean catch is closely monitored and measured. We work with a lot of primary producers whose livelihoods depend on responsible fisheries. In order to be ahead of the curve in terms of changes that could affect our ocean resources, such as fish stocks, we should provide evidence-based predictions for climate change mitigation. The primary fish and seafood producers can be at the frontline of sustainable fisheries management. So we need to better integrate their skillsets and knowledge with policy instruments.


Which areas of the ocean economy represent strong opportunities for Canada?

We have an increasing global population and therefore a rising demand for protein. Seafood, in general, is an excellent source of protein. So there is a big opportunity for Canada in terms of producing the sea-based protein the world’s population will need. On the terrestrial side, you see all kinds of other alternative proteins being promoted; Canada’s Protein Supercluster is driven by the same demand for protein. So, I think there is massive opportunity for Canada in all aspects of protein production, including fish and seafood. I envision a future in which Canada is producing the highest quality food globally with great nutritional value for this growing population, in line with our position as a major exporter. My personal vision is for the food industry to deliver “health through food” from both land and sea.

Canada’s competitive advantage in the ocean economy is in environmental management. We still have pristine waters. That is an advantage because we are exporting to countries that do not have clean oceans and the best thing we can do is maintain that advantage.

“There is a big opportunity for Canada in terms of producing the sea-based protein the world’s population will need.”

Canada has other areas of opportunity. For example, the more you apply advanced technologies for scanning and selection, the more you reduce food production’s potential waste streams. In terms of our fisheries, by using technology we can improve the process of selecting the right catch, so that we do not waste by-catch. Also, one of the areas we are working on is value creation from by-products. In the ocean sector, the difference between catch and the percentage of that catch that is consumed by people is often only 40%. Moreover, clean water is a particularly sensitive resource. Technologies for water purification currently pull 95-97% of contaminants out of processed water, which is approximating net zero water use in processing industries. So, we can be leaders in water purification technology and sustainable resources use across the world.

Moreover, there are lots of technologies in one sector that could be applied to a similar problem scenario in another sector. So, we must look at the technologies that are available in other industries and put them into practice in the ocean economy now rather than waiting until we create anew.

To capitalize on these large global ocean economic opportunities, governments must create the policy and business environment for enterprise and business to thrive. We also need to be very creative in our financing and support of PPP developments so that we fill the gap from bench to reality.


What is the current state of our aquaculture industries and how can they be modernized?

We need more horizontal integration in our aquaculture industries, in contrast to vertical integration. We have a lot of small processors dispersed around the coast and there are opportunities to integrate them horizontally between industry partners. The whole idea is to not simply have one or two large players monopolize the industry, but encourage integration and connectivity to maintain space for the smaller producers. But this requires good infrastructure and financial support policies for those people to expand their businesses.

We are already seeing the impact of climate change on our marine fisheries. On the East Coast, shellfish populations are moving north to new breeding grounds. We are seeing incoming populations of invasive species of fish that have not been here before.

“I do not propose displacing offshore ocean catch or ocean-based aquaculture. Rather, we need to supplement them with terrestrial aquaculture in order to meet the global demand for protein.”

There are a number of opportunities that stem from this. Firstly, we should adapt to the types of incoming species while trying to protect existing breeding grounds. Secondly, if we need to meet the increase in demand for fish protein, the obvious way is through terrestrial production. I do not propose displacing offshore ocean catch or ocean-based aquaculture. Rather, we need to supplement them with terrestrial aquaculture in order to meet the global demand for protein. Terrestrial aquaculture will also improve our ability to reduce environmental degradation and water utilization in the ocean economy. We have the technology to make those types of systems far more responsible and sustainable.

My background is primarily in the agriculture and agri-food sectors, and I see a lot of parallels between aquaculture and agriculture. Agriculture and food production took many years to get to the intensification and management level it is at. Aquaculture needs to go through that transformation much more quickly and can learn from the lessons agriculture has endured.


How would that kind of intensification affect our marine environment?

I think people have a bit of a misperception about the intensification of food production. If you think about agriculture, intensification occurred after the Second World War in response to threats to food security which led to people starving during the war. Here we are in peacetime and we still have high levels of food insecurity, despite the intensification of food production. Intensification and resource management have gone hand in hand in the food industry, which is leading to incredible advances in sustainable production. The problem is that the costs of environmental management and resource management are borne solely by primary producers to keep food prices low. Our land and sea-based food industries therefore need to be able to participate in better cost integration through greater consumer buy-in towards becoming socially and materially sustainable.


How can we better integrate research and commercialization in the ocean economy?

The integration between academia and industry is, in part, another role of the Ocean Supercluster. As much as fundamental research is very important, uptake is probably one of our weakest links in Canada. However, the focus of funding has shifted from academic research towards a more integrated model with different institutions and industry partners. If research is directly engaged with companies, it can be tested and applied more easily. The Ocean Supercluster has a rather large fund, which needs to be dispersed further down the ladder so that even smaller scale projects can translate applied research into practice.

Related Spotlight Interviews Spotlight Interview Better Technology, Tougher Challenges: The Future of Canada’s Ocean Economy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard - Fisheries and Oceans Canada Spotlight Interview Marine Conservation is Crucial for the Success of Canada’s Ocean Economy Ian Smith CEO - Clearwater Seafoods Spotlight Interview Ocean Food: Canada’s Opportunity in the $1.5 Trillion Global Ocean Economy Jim Hanlon CEO - Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE)
Beth Mason
CEO - Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment

Dr. Beth Mason was appointed CEO of the Verschuren Centre in 2017. She leads its research teams in bringing together large industry and community partners to develop and demonstrate innovative solutions in four key areas – clean energy, agri-marine industries, aquaculture, and nano-technology applications. Dr. Mason came to the Verschuren Centre in 2014 to build out the bio-products research program, after working with Saputo Dairy Products Canada for 11 years.


The Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment is a commercially focused research, development and deployment service provider for the cleantech sector. It develops and delivers sustainable technology solutions in energy, food, and resource management to businesses, governments and communities.