Rebuilding fisheries for whom: Reflections on Oceana Canada’s Science Symposium

By Evan J. Andrews, Senior Research Fellow, TBTI
Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada

On October 26th, in Ottawa, I had the privilege of attending the Oceana Canada’s Science Symposium, “Rebuilding Abundance: Priorities for a Resilient Ocean.” This was the second Oceana Canada Symposium, and my first time attending. I I listened and interacted with leaders from Indigenous nations, academia, government, and industry about the challenges and opportunities for rebuilding as well as their priorities for a resilient ocean. I am grateful for the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I for the financial support to attend the symposium.  

The symposium honed in on a vision that “[a]n Abundant Ocean is Possible. Rebuilding Fish Populations can be our Legacy”. Speakers discussed a range of challenges for rebuilding, including effective consideration of climate change and fishing pressure, and the need to better understand complex ecosystem dynamics as well as the social, cultural, physical and institutional factors that shape rebuilding. Important governance considerations were discussed like advancing Indigenous rights and knowledge systems in the context of rebuilding, the importance of data and monitoring for strong decision-making, and the need for diverse, decentralized, and networked approaches to governance to coordinate rebuilding efforts, including the promotion of community-based fisheries networks and coordination within the fishing industry. The speakers highlighted a broad definition of rebuilding problem, and challenged simple narratives about how to advance rebuilding, and who benefits from rebuilt fish stocks.

I was keen to see that the long-term future for Canada’s oceans and marine life was top of mind in framing solutions for rebuilding. Dr. Rashid Sumaila (University of British Columbia) presented his work on ‘infinity fish,’ highlighting opportunities to think about, and value, a range of benefits from marine ecosystems to sustain ocean and fishery resources for many generations to come. Ken Paul (Wolastoqey First Nation) spoke on the importance of supporting the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada that are protected by treaties and the constitution in collective journey to stronger marine protection. Dr. Barbara Neis highlighted visions for sustaining diversity in the fishing sector and called on attendees to think non-ecological factors shaping resilience through the lens of social, cultural, physical and institutional infrastructures. I was thinking about many questions, as speakers and attendees discussed their diverse visions and strategies to advance rebuilding. For example, what approaches and mechanisms exist for rightsholders and stakeholders to collaborate when they may hold different images of rebuilding, different rights and responsibilities to rebuild, and hopes for rebuild stocks? How can rebuilding account for Indigenous rights, other rules of access for small-scale fisheries? How can rebuilding support communities in the short term? How can rebuilding address issues of equity and Blue Justice?

By the end of the symposium, I was thinking about small-scale fisheries. Jim McIsaac (Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation), in particular, reminded everyone that independent fish harvesters are key to manifesting benefits from rebuilding into coastal communities. Although the presence of fishing industry representatives, social scientists, and Indigenous representatives helped steer rebuilding conversations to advance rebuilding, the contribution of small-scale fisheries towards rebuilding and long-term solutions remains undermined. More work is required to explore the roles that Canadian small-scale fisheries can play in advancing rebuilding, including short- and long-term prospects for an abundant ocean.

Evan J. Andrews is a Senior Research Fellow with Too Big to Ignore: A Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research, and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Ocean Frontier Institute. He is based in the Department of Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 2020, Evan earned a Ph.D. from the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo. His research interests bring together values, human behaviour, human dignity, and environmental change into action spaces such as policy and governance. To put knowledge into action, Evan leads and contributes to collaborations for coastal and marine sustainability, including with government, non-governmental organizations, coastal communities, and universities both in Canada and around the world. He is the Vice President of the Society of Policy Scientists, an integrative research and practice network seeking to integrate knowledge to solve policy problems in service of human dignity for the future. As well, he is now leading a new research network, Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada (SSF-Can). SSF-Can brings together 75 diverse collaborators in future-facing knowledge synthesis activities, including an upcoming eBook, Thinking BIG about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada.