- The health of Canada’s oceans is the most important factor for the long-term success of its ocean economy and fisheries industry.
- The simplification of Canada’s commercial fishing regulatory systems will make our fisheries and seafood industries more efficient and competitive without compromising on environmental sustainability or quality.
- Canadian companies in the seafood sector need to collaborate, leverage Canada’s strong international brand in order to compete globally, and invest in value-adding technology and highly skilled labour.
Canada’s policymakers must recognize that our ocean economy needs to have a multi-stakeholder long-term plan, which will not necessarily change with successive governments.
Which are the most promising opportunities for Canada’s ocean economy?
Canada’s ocean economy has huge opportunities as well as challenges. Clearwater has been operating as part of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster, which is exploring various issues related to the future of the ocean economy. We need to gain a deeper understanding of the ocean environment and the effects of climate change. Canada should also develop both its food and non-food ocean-based natural resources.
Another opportunity for Canada is to become the international leader in ocean technology. I am a part of the Agri-food Economic Strategy Table, which has produced a white paper report on Canada’s agriculture, agri-food and seafood opportunities. Canada has the opportunity to grow its agriculture and agri-food exports by $20 billion. Moreover, Canada’s seafood exports are currently estimated to be between $6 billion and $6.5 billion, and the goal is to grow them to about $10 billion by the end of 2025. So, that is a massive opportunity for the fisheries sector in Canada.
“Canada’s seafood exports are currently estimated to be between $6 billion and $6.5 billion, and the goal is to grow them to about $10 billion by the end of 2025.”
The world population is growing and so is the demand for protein. Seafood protein is one of the most environmentally sustainable of the proteins that are currently produced. Canada has the capability to expand aquaculture to cater to growing global demand for protein, but we need science-based regulations and management systems to address its impact on our oceans. We need clear benchmarks and measures that can be monitored and enforced while developing aquaculture. Clearwater is not in aquaculture, we are entirely a wild seafood company. But, aquaculture must be allowed to continue to develop in Canada and there has to be a roadmap for it.
How globally competitive are Canada’s seafood industry and our wider economy, and what is needed to improve their performance?
Most Canadians either do not accept or are not aware that Canada has lost some of its global competitiveness in the agriculture and agri-food sectors. If the private and public sectors can work together and make important decisions fast, Canada can become competitive again.
Despite the wealth of Canada’s natural resources, our relative prosperity and the strength of our financial and economic system, we need to have a sense of urgency for a secure future. We have to continue to improve and expand our assets in global and domestic markets where goods are traded more freely. We have to get more leverage out of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Moreover, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has not been ratified yet and we cannot look past the importance of that fact. We need investment in infrastructure, such as interconnected transportation networks that can expand our capacity and routes to market. Canada should also improve its broadband and IT infrastructure, which will increase our accessibility to our rural communities. Clearwater had to build its own infrastructure to get access to the information in our fish plants because many coastal communities did not have any broadband networks. These are multi-million-dollar facilities located on the coast, which are limited in their output due to underdeveloped infrastructure.
How can we balance the protection of our marine ecosystems and the development of our ocean industries?
The development of our ocean resources and the protection of our marine ecosystem are not mutually exclusive. First of all, to focus on growth without considering the health of our fishery resources would be false growth. We need to protect the long-term sustainability of our fishery resources first and foremost, so everything has to start with conservation. A healthy resource needs to be the basis for growth in our sector.
“To focus on growth without considering the health of our fishery resources would be false growth. We need to protect the long-term sustainability of our fishery resources first and foremost.”
Most of Canada’s fishery resources are not expected to expand significantly in volume over the course of the next several years. As such, growth needs to come from building the value of our products and maximizing product utilization. We also need more efficient harvesting technology to reduce wastage as well as costs. Ocean bottom mapping is one such technology that allows us to essentially fish where the fish are and improve the productivity of our days at sea. It reduces the amount of fuel we burn, so it reduces our carbon footprint, but it also lowers our impact on the ocean habitat. When we are fishing efficiently and within sustainability limits, we are also operating within the biological limits of the target species. Canada is a leader in this area from a sustainability standpoint. Over 60% of the volume and 80% of the value of Canadian fisheries have achieved the global gold standard of fishery certification, compared to the global average of 15%. We have come a long way from the collapse of Northern Cod back in the late 1980s. This is an example of what we are capable of doing when we try to strike a balance, encourage collaboration between the private and public sector, and invest in our ocean economy.
How would you assess Canada’s commercial fishing regulations? How can they be improved?
We have learned from our mistakes, the biggest one being the Northern Cod collapse. Canada now has a sound regulatory system for the commercial fishing industry focused on conservation science. We also have a very strong fisheries management system, which keeps Canadian seafood stock at highly productive levels. So, I think Canada has the right foundation to build its ocean economy.
Having said that, some areas of our regulatory system are antiquated, reduce our competitiveness and most importantly, kill jobs. Our multitude of licenses, certifications, inspections, authorizations and other forms of regulations reduce speed, increase costs, and lead to significant duplication at both the provincial and federal level. For example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, provincial governments as well as Transport Canada regulate vessels using their own certifications and inspections. The simplification of our regulatory system is one step that could increase our competitiveness without hurting our sustainability or the quality of our fisheries.
We also need smarter and more agile regulations that are fairly and impartially applied, and provide certainty and consistency to the industry for large and long-term investments. Canadian government bodies should ensure that they provide reasonable assurances and uphold historical practice around access to license holding. Harvesters should be able to make large, new, long-term and value enhancing investments in vessels, conservation science, process technology and employment, with the assurance that they will hold their license at the end of it.
“The simplification of our regulatory system is one step that could increase our competitiveness without hurting our sustainability or the quality of our fisheries.”
Regulations are also needed to protect the health and safety of our oceans, and regulations that can improve our speed to commercialization and to market. Then, we need policies and programs that support and promote investments to scale up our Canadian SMEs in the agri-food and fisheries sectors. Even large companies like Clearwater, who often make the early and necessary investments to open new markets and channels, need to be supported as champions of Canadian agriculture, agri-food and seafood products and services. Finally, the government needs to devise policies and programs that will support and promote investments in skills and training to create our 21thcentury labour force so that we can meet the range of skills and experiences required to achieve our sector growth targets.
If I had to lay it out succinctly, I would urge Canada’s policymakers to recognize that our ocean economy needs to have a multi-stakeholder long-term plan, which will not necessarily change with successive governments.
How do you envision the future of Canada’s fisheries industry?
Fisheries do have collaboration, but we have a long way to go. In Canada, we spend too much time thinking of other companies as our competition and do not think enough about the global seafood industry as competition. Canada has built a fantastic global brand for food products – for seafood products in particular – which stands for high quality, natural and safe. Policies and programs can improve Canadian competitiveness by encouraging the private sector to add value to products by leveraging technology and highly skilled human capital. The employment in the fisheries industry of the future is not going to be minimum wage or seasonal workers in fish plants doing low skilled labour. The future needs to be more automated and technology-driven with a higher skilled and better-trained workforce with higher wages. Atlantic Canada has only 2 million people and its population is shrinking each year. If we want to keep our youth in Atlantic Canada, we have to create the jobs of the future by investing in technology and related skills training. If we just invest in new technology, we are creating a skills gap and will then have to hunt for a labour force that does not exist.
“Policies and programs can improve Canadian competitiveness by encouraging the private sector to add value to products by leveraging technology and highly skilled human capital.”
Clearwater is dedicated to sustainable seafood excellence. We are a 42-year-old company and the only publicly traded fishing company in North America. This comes with a significant responsibility and a level of transparency not necessarily practised by privately held operations. The fisheries industry has a responsibility to safeguard the resources we harvest for the future, which will ensure the long-term success of our company. We have almost 1,400 employees in Atlantic Canada and want these employees to have good jobs 20 years from now.