At Oceana Canada, World Oceans Day is every day.
Today, on World Oceans Day, we could showcase any number of beautiful ocean vistas with playful porpoises, majestic humpback whales breaching and slapping their tails, or rare, otherworldly corals from the depths of the ocean floor – and say, “look at all the beauty and bounty we have to celebrate!”
Indeed, Canada is one of the most marine-rich nations in the world. Canadians care deeply about our natural environment, and oceans are no exception. But wildlife and wild fish populations are not in good shape and need our help. This enormous ecosystem that supports all life on the planet is being decimated. Currently, only one quarter of Canada’s fish populations are considered healthy.
That is why, instead of focusing on beautiful images, I want Canadians to know on this World Oceans Day that we are facing a potentially huge turning point for the health of our most valuable natural resource.
Perhaps more so than any other country in the world right now, Canada has an enormous opportunity to harness the ocean’s growth potential to build back better from the economic havoc wreaked by the pandemic. As part of our economic recovery, the Canadian government is embarking on its first attempt to create a sustainable Blue Economy Strategy. We must take this opportunity to arrest the ongoing decline in the health of our wild fish populations and invest in their recovery.
Our ocean economy currently provides 300,000 jobs and contributes almost $32 billion to our GDP, and seafood is the largest contributor within the sector. With more than seven million Canadians living in coastal communities, this strategy will prove crucial for all who rely on our oceans for food, jobs, cultural traditions, recreation and so much more.
Many of the fish populations we rely on for food, income, and culture have been collapsed for decades due to overfishing and mismanagement. For more than five years now, Oceana Canada has detailed the mismanagement of Canada’s wild fisheries in our Fishery Audit, and the trend has been a steady decline.
We know Canadians care deeply about our oceans and the creatures that live in them – and not just the charismatic whales or rare corals found in the deep. Recent Abacus Data polling commissioned by Oceana Canada shows that 97 per cent of Canadians want the government to rebuild our depleted fish populations. Ninety-five per cent – and 99 per cent of those in Atlantic Canada – believe doing so is an important part of our post-pandemic economic recovery.
Now, with the Blue Economy Strategy framed as a top federal priority, we see a real opportunity for the government to finally fulfill its mandates and longstanding policy commitments, so that Canada can realize the full potential of healthy fisheries – the original foundation of our blue economy.
Without wild fish, there is no blue economy – at least not one that would make sense for anyone living on any of our three coasts.
Yet, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not implemented many modern approaches to fisheries management that would allow fish populations to recover, and in turn create more long-term jobs for Canadians. One glaring example is the proposed Fisheries Act regulations for rebuilding depleted fisheries. As is the case in other modern fisheries nations, these regulations should set out the goal and standards for how to develop and implement plans to rebuild stocks if they are overfished. In the U.S., for example, such rules have resulted in 45 stocks being rebuilt, with more fishing and greater revenue. But the Canadian draft regulations, as they are currently written, are woefully insufficient, lacking targets and timelines for rebuilding. Indeed, the final Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations, expected this year, will provide an important litmus test of the government’s true intentions for developing a sustainable blue economy.
Prime Minister Trudeau and Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan know Canadians want them to do the right thing for our oceans. For our Blue Economy Strategy to be sustainable it must be regenerative and restorative, before considering ocean economy activities that are destructive. Otherwise, it risks simply being an industrialization plan for the ocean, with economic benefits for some and incalculable loss for others. The oceans deserve better. So do we.
Right now, decision-makers in Ottawa are asking Canadians to help shape this national strategy to help make our oceans healthy and prosperous and “build back better.” But the only way to do that is by conserving and rebuilding our wild fish populations. This is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
This World Oceans Day, please join us by signing our petition telling the government to protect our oceans and our economy, before the government’s Blue Economy Strategy feedback deadline of June 15, 2021. Make this Oceans Day not just a day we reflect on the beauty of the ocean, but the day we act to keep it that way.