A re-evaluation of Canada’s marine industry in an environmentally-conscious era

Although Canada has the longest coastline in the world, not many Canadians consider the country to be a maritime or seafaring nation. The country’s coastal communities have long relied on the oceans for sustenance and employment, and there is a longstanding tradition of sailing, fishing, security, and other sectors that make up Canada’s expansive marine industry. The marine industry, both commercial and defence-related, generates at least seven billion dollars in valuable revenue; however, many of the revenue-generating practices have proven to be environmentally unsustainable. Furthermore, despite the industry’s economic value, the marine sector has dwindled in popularity and strength since the turn of the 21st century. This has greatly contributed to the lack of innovation and research to replace obsolete and environmentally degrading practices. As a result, there exists a lot of opportunities for innovation and research to improve the sustainability of this historical industry for it to continue to employ over 322,000 Canadians, and to maintain the country’s status among other seafaring nations, whilst mitigating the industry’s environmental impact over time.

The Canadian marine industry struggles to attract new employees to sustain the various sectors within it. Many Canadian communities are landlocked and have no connection to the country’s coastal identity. Furthermore, due to the country’s low population and rapid growth in other sectors, the marine industry is struggling to maintain popularity and has suffered from drastic industry collapses in the past, which points to long-term use of unsustainable practices. Regarded as a mostly obsolete or unfruitful sector, many young Canadians inland and near waterways are turning to more secure options. Nevertheless, most of Canada’s trade occurs on water, and Canada’s shipping and fishing industries remain very strong. Therefore, Canada’s marine sector does possess great potential and can flourish with rigorous governmental attention. Policy options could include diversifying and increasing rewarding employment opportunities, decreasing industry privatization, and upholding environmental sustainability.

The marine industry could also be reinvigorated through increased public interest and engagement. Canada’s marine industry is littered with obsolete practices such as marine merchantry, which includes sea trade and shipping, and private fishing caused by gentrification within the sector, practices which have led to the large-scale automation of many ports and marine businesses across Canada. Additionally, the industry is currently mostly driven by coastal communities, which have been seafaring for generations. However, despite these barriers to entry into the industry, there are a plethora of engaging entry-level opportunities available for young Canadians interested in the marine sector. This includes sail training, the Canadian coast guard, sea cadets and Navy, as well as several trade school or college routes which lead to manufacturing, aquaculture, engineering, and research. The lack of interest in this sector may be caused by low public exposure to, and awareness of, rewarding employment opportunities.  Many Canadian communities are also landlocked and have no connection to the country’s coastal identity. Furthermore, due to the country’s low population and rapid growth in other sectors, the marine industry is struggling to maintain popularity and has suffered from drastic industry collapses in the past, which points to long-term use of unsustainable practices. Canada’s marine industry is littered with obsolete practices such as merchant marining and private fishing caused by gentrification within the sector, practices which have led to the large-scale mechanization of many ports and marine businesses across Canada. In order to respond to decreasing public interest, provincial governments, which are responsible for education curriculums, should introduce relevant professional pathways for school boards in career-related conversations to generate interest among young students in Canada.

One particular issue with Canada’s marine sector lies in the unsustainability of its fisheries. The country is known for the quality of its commercial and private fishing; however, due to overfishing in recent decades, this practice has been in steady decline. Overfishing in the 20th century led to industry collapse in the 1990s and overall serious environmental degradation, particularly in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This trend is noticeable in the decline of the oceans’ ecosystem quality, with diminishing fish populations, polluted watersheds and destroyed ocean habitats. To respond to these issues, the federal government has implemented the long-awaited National Fishery Monitoring Policy (FMP), which aims to create limits on wild catching and establish closed areas for habitat and population rehabilitation. The FMP would greatly facilitate fishers to gauge the supply of fish they are allowed to access. In 2017, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) suggested increasing fishing of Northern Cod by 30% due to financial lucrativeness. However, research has suggested the damaging biological effects of doing so. The FMP policy would thus solve these inconsistent and unsustainable practices by synthesizing the existing scientific research. The FMP would furthermore reduce fishing piracy, which is caused by foreign fisheries entering Canadian waters and selling products. Whilst the FMP is an important first step at tackling the unsustainability of the industry, the Canadian government still has many opportunities for potential industry improvements, in order to create effective governance and oversight between policy-makers to fishers. This is especially true in the four-year rebuilding of the Fisheries Act (Bill C68) which was finally passed in summer 2019, aiming to restore and maintain watersheds and fish populations after the devastating industry collapse of the previous decades.

In recent years, a focus on the environmental impacts of various industries has become widespread within public discourse in Canada. As a result, this has opened the conversation about furthering sustainability measures in the fishing industry while maintaining economic benefits, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many industries have been forced to adapt to procedural changes. More environmental researchers are needed in Canada’s oceans to build more legitimate fishing policies and estimates. There also needs to be an increase in national interest towards the coasts for them to evolve and continue to preserve their status in this maritime nation, whilst ensuring their environmental sustainability.

Despite many changes that must be implemented in the Canadian marine industry, there have been advancements made by the government to ensure the industry is sustainable and economically profitable. The federal government is currently working with other maritime nations in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), to pursue fishing for economic benefit while enforcing policies that respect the needs of marine ecosystems and sustainability. Furthermore, Canada played a substantive role in the creation of the 2006 United Nations General Assembly Sustainable Fisheries Resolution, where outlines for increased research and science in world oceans were registered as a necessary step towards sustainable development in this sector. The government also aims to continue to support revenues in mono-industrial communities. Additionally, since fishing is a popular commodity in international trade, increased coastal security as outlined by the Fisheries Act will aid in mitigating fishing piracy and illegal overfishing. With the help of other seafaring nations, Canada can uphold fishing standards in the global fish trade to sustain ocean habitats and ensure generations of Canadian fishing. These commitments and emerging policies are important steps towards increasing sustainability and opportunities for all Canadians in the marine industry and should lead to the creation of further policy to ensure sustainable prosperity in coastal activity in this country.

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