What’s a ‘blue economy’? Amid fisheries strife in home province, federal minister launches bid to better reap ocean resources

The world’s longest coastline belongs to Canada — it’s connected to three oceans — and yet we don’t get as much economically out of our ocean resources as some other countries.

It’s time for that to change, says the federal fisheries minister.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan on Monday launched the “engagement phase” of the federal government’s Blue Economy Strategy, a sweeping, full-government blueprint for developing this country’s use of its ocean resources.

The “blue economy,” according to the World Bank, is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.

According to government figures, pre-COVID-19, Canada’s ocean-based economy contributed $ 31.7 billion a year to the country’s gross domestic product — about 1.6 per cent of the total GDP. That trails countries such as Norway, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, all of whose ocean economies contribute proportionally more to their GDPs, and it’s behind a global average of 3.2 per cent contribution to GDP.

“Over seven million people live on Canada’s coasts. And the ocean economy is something that is extremely important to coastal Canadians.,” said Jordan. “But it’s only 1.6 per cent of our GDP. So, there’s so much potential for growth, for creating jobs for technology development. This is really exciting, because we haven’t had an ocean strategy since 2002. And a lot has changed since then. So, we want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to sustainably develop our oceans.”

This first step will be a series of consultations, as Jordan and fellow federal minsters meet with stakeholders, such as representatives from the tourism, maritime transport, fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

Those meetings will include companies involved in ocean technology, such as the Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship and Sedna Technologies, both located in Dartmouth, N.S., the latter of which produces software to monitor seafood products from sea to plate.

The general public will also get its say, said Jordan, courtesy of a Blue Economy Strategy website, which also launched Monday.

Jordan’s consultations, she says, will include First Nations on all three coasts.

“There’s no way we would be able to develop a strategy without Indigenous communities,” said Jordan. “Historic knowledge is extremely important. Cultural knowledge is extremely important. We have to remember First Nations have been using the ocean space for thousands of years, and we want to make sure we incorporate what we hear from them absolutely into the Blue Economy Strategy.”

Critics may raise an eyebrow at such comments, given the unfinished business in Jordan’s home province of Nova Scotia.

The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a moderate livelihood lobster fishery in southwestern Nova Scotia this past September, touching off months of conflict, including violence and racism at the hands of non-Indigenous fishers.

The Sipekne’katik say they are exercising their right to fish and hunt for a moderate livelihood as established by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1999 Marshall decision.

Negotiations between the federal government and the Sipekne’katik went on for four months before breaking down in December. In that time, two other Mi’kmaq bands — Potlotek and Pictou Landing — launched their own moderate livelihood fisheries.

The issue remains unresolved and the Sipekne’katik have said they intend to return to their moderate livelihood fishery at some point when the weather warms.

“We’re continuing to work with First Nations to resolve the issues, we’re continuing to have those conversations that are extremely important,” said Jordan.

“We absolutely know that the First Nations have a right to a moderate livelihood as affirmed by the Supreme Court. And we’re going to continue to work with them to make sure that we implement that right.”

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“I think that this actually ties into the Blue Economy, in making sure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the ocean space, to make sure that they can have economic development through the ocean space. And I think also, with regards to the moderate livelihood specifically, providing clarity is going to be extremely important … to make sure that we’re developing industries in the right way.”

Consultations on the strategy are expected to last through the summer, and Jordan said she expected to have a plan together by mid-fall.

“This is actually going to drive what policies we develop it and how we invest strategically over the next number of years.”

TORONTO STAR