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Minister Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Part of the Spotlight on the Ocean Economy

Better Technology, Tougher Challenges: The Future of Canada’s Ocean Economy

Takeaways

  1. Canada’s ocean economy is valued at about $35 billion in economic activity and it encompasses fishing and fishery management, tourism, recreation, renewable energy technologies, and others sectors.
  2. Canada has focused its international efforts on three areas that are key to the future of the ocean economy and marine conservation: illegal fishing, ocean plastic and ocean observation, and monitoring for data enhancement.
  3. There are incredible opportunities for cleantech in Canada’s ocean economy, including enormous opportunities related to the sustainable aquaculture required to meet the global population’s growing protein requirements.

Action

Canada needs to view ocean sustainability not just as a threat, but as an opportunity to grow its economy by developing the innovative solutions to global ocean challenges. These will then have markets for domestic and international use.


How can we balance ocean protection and economic development?

It’s a fact that if you do not think about sustainability in the context of oceans and fisheries, you will probably run into problems on both the environmental and the economic side. We should actually look at sustainability not just as a threat that we are trying to mitigate but also as an economic opportunity. So, figuring out how we can be part of the solution to these global challenges will enable us to sell services and products to grow the economy in a sustainable way.

Technology will be very important in terms of achieving the development-protection balance. For example, the science is more advanced today when it comes to fisheries management, but we are facing harder challenges such as climate change.The east coast has seen dramatic ecosystem changes in the types of fish and crustaceans inhabiting its oceans, just in the last decade. So, we have to be extremely thoughtful about how we take climate-modeling data and incorporate that into fisheries management decisions.


How do you assess Canada’s ocean economy and its potential in our future economy?

The ocean economy is much broader than fishing and fishery management. It includes tourism, recreation and renewable energy technologies, among others. There is a lot of potential for developing services and technologies that can be exported to enable others to be effective in managing their own ocean environments. In Canada, there are about 350,000 people whose livelihood depends on the ocean and the ocean economy’s value is around $35 billion in economic activity. So, it is already a huge part of our economy but there are significant opportunities for the future.

“In Canada, there are about 350,000 people whose livelihood depends on the ocean and the ocean economy’s value is around $35 billion in economic activity.”

We are very competitive in some parts of the ocean economy, but there is a need to improve others. The country that people talk about a lot, specifically in the area of aquaculture, is Norway. There is increasing dialogue between Norway and Canada about best practices and knowledge sharing. I think our Ocean Supercluster is considering connecting with similar organizations in Norway to ensure we are not duplicating, but rather finding niches where each of us can be helpful in advancing the global ocean economy.


What are your priorities as they pertain to Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan?

The Oceans Protection Plan is an important and broad framework. The Oceans Protection Plan is about ensuring that we are making investments to enable the ocean’s economy to be safe, environmentally sensitive and more productive. For example, shipping companies can manage their vessels, whether they are transporting oil or other commodities, to ensure the safety and sustainability of oceans.

“Cleantech relates to a lot of the work that is being done in the context of marine environments. There are enormous opportunities in aquaculture for us to use technology to advance the industry sustainably.”

Health and safety are also serious concerns when it comes to the protection of oceans. Increasingly, large amounts of tourism, whale watching, recreation and fisheries activities are undertaken on the water. So, we need to ensure that we have appropriate search and rescue capabilities to adequately respond to new challenges. We have reopened some of the Coast Guard bases that were closed under the previous government on both coasts. The investments in infrastructure will ensure that people can feel a sense of comfort in our ocean systems, so that we can grow the ocean economy in a sustainable, manageable and safe way.


What is the status of Canada’s fisheries industry and how can we drive improvements within it in the future?

Fisheries are a really important part of the economy, certainly on the east coast. The commercial fishery industry is enormous there and it is a very important aspect of livelihoods in the Maritimes and in Newfoundland and Labrador. On the west coast, commercial fishery is important, but the recreational fishery industry is probably larger. Then of course, First Nations have important cultural ties to fishing and also have aspirations for a stronger place in commercial fishing.

“The productivity of our oceans is actually decreasing and that of our soils is at best, static. Yet, the population of the world is growing, so the protein requirements of the world are going to have to come from somewhere.”

There are 30 different stocks of fish in Canada that are certified as being sustainably managed, but there are others where we clearly have some challenges. Some of these challenges are related to historic practices but others relate to ecosystem change and climate change. If you look at some of the challenges facing wild salmon on the west coast, they are related to habitat disturbance in the past and there is a need to reinvest in habitat regeneration. But other challenges have to do with the changing nature of the existing conditions. So, we need to be very thoughtful about how we interpret science to inform decision making.

I spent 20 years as a CEO in the cleantech space with a focus on energy. Cleantech relates to a lot of the work that is being done in the context of marine environments. There are enormous opportunities in aquaculture for us to use technology to advance the industry sustainably. Short-term technological innovations could be around the pens used to raise fish and a range of other things. In the longer term, one exciting opportunity is the development of closed containment options that may enable aquaculture to be a much bigger part of the protein requirements of the world. The productivity of our oceans is actually decreasing and that of our soils is at best, static. Yet, the population of the world is growing, so the protein requirements of the world are going to have to come from somewhere.

“Over 20% of fish are taken out of the ocean illegally and it is very difficult to manage fish stocks if you do not have an accountability mechanism.”

But cleantech in Canada’s ocean economy is much broader than aquaculture. For example, one of the things that we have been struggling with in the east coast is how to deal with right whales. They are an endangered species with which we encountered a number of problems a year and a half ago. Whales were coming in and getting caught and entangled in netting. We have made a number of adjustments to try to address that but one of the longer-term answers is new technologies that ensure that our netting does not entangle marine mammals.


What are the ocean-related issues Canada raised at the G7 in Charlevoix and what must we focus on to drive them forward?

We focused on three things at the G7: illegal fishing, oceans plastic and ocean observation and monitoring for data enhancement. Over 20% of fish are taken out of the ocean illegally and it is very difficult to manage fish stocks if you do not have an accountability mechanism. There is a strong consensus among G7 countries that we need to end illegal fishing. The G7 has put a fair amount of money into satellite observation and technological upgrading. We have also followed up with other G7 countries to look for ideas to enhance coordination and bring other countries into this conversation.

“The G7 has formulated the ocean plastics charter and commitments around developing plans that will ensure that we are moving towards recycling, reusing and reducing plastic waste to zero.”

There are two parts to the ocean plastics piece. Firstly, the volume of ocean plastics and its effect on marine life is under immense discussion. The G7 has formulated the ocean plastics charter and commitments around developing plans that will ensure that we are moving towards recycling, reusing and reducing plastic waste to zero. Canada has also been talking about enabling the developing world to put in place better management systems because a significant proportion of ocean plastics come from the developing world. Canada obviously needs to ensure that it is doing domestically what it is asking others to do internationally, and Minister Catherine McKenna is leading a federal-provincial discussion about getting Canada to this zero waste economy. The other piece of this conversation is around the ghost gear issue since a major part of the plastics in the ocean is discarded and lost fishing gear.

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Minister Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard - Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Jonathan Wilkinson served as a parliamentary secretary from 2015 until 2018, when he was appointed Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. He has spent more than 20 years in the private sector, and held leadership positions with a number of companies dedicated to the development of green technologies. He served as CEO of both QuestAir Technologies and BioteQ Environmental Technologies, and was senior Vice President of Business Development at Nexterra.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada, frequently referred to as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), is the department within the Government of Canada that is responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs in support of Canada’s economic, ecological and scientific interests in oceans and inland waters.