Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada

Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada

Edited by Evan J. Andrews & Christine Knott

The e-book brings together over 100 authors from across Canada to share stories, perspectives, and research about small-scale fisheries in this country. There are contributors from small-scale fishing communities, civil society, government, and academia.

The book will illustrate the diversity of small-scale fisheries in provinces and territories across Canada, including what they are and how they are doing. As such, the chapters will demonstrate that small-scale fisheries in Canada exist and that they matter to communities on the coasts, rivers’ edges, by the lakes, and everything in between.

Importantly, e-book shows that Canadian small-scale fisheries are not a problem. These fisheries successfully navigate the complex and uncertain challenges of social-ecological changes in aquatic systems and their governance. They are, and they offer, key solutions for a range of issues challenging governance of aquatic systems across this country.

Over the upcoming months, we will be releasing other chapters from the e-book in preparation for an official book launch so stay tuned!

This article argues the need to phase out the industrial fishery model and prioritize small-scale fisheries – but not just smaller versions of current practices. A different paradigm is needed, embodying the fundamental principles that underlie traditional Indigenous approaches to harvesting, and embracing the time-tested knowledge and wisdom of Indigenous and outport communities. The authors describe features and characteristics of both Indigenous and outport fish harvesting traditions, highlighting how both contrast with the present-day large-scale industrial approach. They note how, despite fundamental differences, outport and Indigenous traditions sometimes echo each other, and suggest that those echoes represent valuable insights. Based on those insights, they urge a shift away from large-scale extractive industrial fishing to a predominantly small-scale alternative that effectively recognizes human harvesters as part of the ecosystem.

This chapter is a conversation between Dr. Sherry Pictou and Dr. Christine Knott about how feminist frameworks, specifically Indigenous feminist frameworks offer important insights into understanding and thinking about oceans, coastal communities, emerging blue economies, and small-scale fisheries. The conversation is taken from a transcript of Episode 8 of the Fishyfeminist Podcast from 2022, and has been edited for easier reading.

The specific geographical focus for this discussion is Northern Turtle Island known today as Canada, but many of these insights are important for thinking through blue economies and small-scale fisheries in other settler colonial contexts. This is not to say that these insights are directly transferable, more so that the questions raised in this conversation may also be raised in other contexts and regions where different answers may emerge. The conversation can therefore drive new questions for Canadian small-scale fisheries and beyond given the diversity of small-scale fisheries in Canada and globally.

Here we explore the synergies and conflicts that arise in freshwater systems in Canada where small-scale fisheries and recreational fisheries intersect. We also consider what this multi-sector fishing pressure means to governance in the current Canadian context. We use a case study approach with three cases that each focus on where small-scale fisheries (both Indigenous and commercial) and recreational fisheries interact in lakes of eastern Ontario and Manitoba, as well as on the lower Fraser River. Our goal is to illustrate how fisheries management and conservation requires holistic and innovative thinking and the recognition that different fisheries sectors operating in inland waters are inherently interconnected.

Complex issues of scale are fundamental to all our understanding: they so much underpin it that they often pass unnoticed, and we fail to realize that the situations we are examining may be operating at mismatching geographical, temporal, technological and/or intellectual scales. It is only by being aware of these different scales that we will be able to recognize when one or more of them are in play and may possibly conflict. The paper examines these scales and their possible mismatches in turn and indicates their importance for fisheries management at all scales (including local small scales) in fisheries management in Canada and globally.

In 2020, we were all shocked by empty shelves in grocery stores. Folks began to realize how dependent we are on global supply chains that can be influenced by shipping crises, pandemics, and climate change. But in the Community Supported Fishery model, when harvesters are selling their catch directly to consumers in domestic markets, they’re not at the mercy of things like currency exchange rates and fluctuations in global supply and pandemics and international demand for products that might not be sustainable. When
the catch is already bought and paid for, no matter what it is, we help small scale fisheries to be more adaptive, more responsive to change.

Through news articles, family stories and informal interviews, we report here how the pandemic changed the lobster fishery distribution – and the kitchen parties –, at least for one season. Reflections are also made about the factors contributing to the seemingly lack of access to the local products, and how the future looks like for the lobster fishery and the customers’ access to the fishery products.

Working in a safe environment is the fundamental right of every enterprise owner and boat operator associated with Canadian small-scale fisheries. This chapter identifies that OHS risks in Canadian small-scale fisheries are evolving, and a more robust governance framework is needed to mitigate such risks. In this chapter, we argued that Canadian small-scale fisheries are not small to ignore the safety of workers associated with this profession. The study identifies a distinct need to develop better governance policies to protect small-scale fisheries workers, and tailored intervention strategies from federal and provincial governments and local authorities are needed to ensure the safety of fish workers.

I am a small-scale fisheries researcher in Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), Canada… I am also an active commercial fishing person. I have worked as a deckhand on fishing boats in Maine and Alaska for the past six years, as well as most recently fishing for snow crab and cod in NL... In this way, I am a transdisciplinary researcher, which means I am a researcher with the perspective of a person who has also done the fishing work. This chapter explores, through storytelling, how perspectives like mine can connect governance principles to the daily lived experiences of fishing people, creating pathways for embodied governance, and ultimately, implementation of Blue Justice for small-scale fishing people.

This chapter is based on insights from two studies with which both authors were involved through the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I ‘Informing Governance Responses in a Changing Ocean’. López Gómez co-led a study on recruitment, training and retention of individuals working in the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries. Reid-Musson co-led a study on occupational and marine safety and marine forecast use in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia small-scale fisheries. This chapter synthesizes primary findings from each of these studies, as well as background literature that have helped inform and interpret the study findings. We draw from these two case studies and integrate their findings to present a portrait of precarity in small-scale fisheries in Atlantic Canada holistically rather than discussing the two studies sequentially.

Given these rapidly-emerging challenges, there is a crucial need to continue and enhance the knowledge-building efforts on small-scale fisheries in Canada. This will involve overcoming the barriers laid out in this chapter, and building on successes – in greater acknowledgement of the identity and importance of small-scale fisheries, and in efforts to build knowledge in inclusive, participatory and multidisciplinary ways. We need to build on the strong history of small-scale fisheries knowledge-building in Canada, through an agenda to be pursued today, and to keep us going for many years to come.

Snow crab survey stations that are checked annually by the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board. Makkovik is identified as the location of annual Snow crab processing. Map by Shawn Rivoire, Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat.

There is too much too lose by not respecting Inuit land claim agreements and the potential of fisheries co-management for Indigenous Peoples. There is opportunity in viewing land claim agreements as the starting points, and the foundation for more aspirational future goals that continue to privilege Inuit rights and flourishing, while promoting sustainable usage of natural resource.

A common theme I encountered in my first few visits to Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut was that their concerns about how marine mammals are being impacted by shipping and climate change were falling on deaf ears. One elder expressed his frustration at having attended so many meetings like
the one I was hosting and sharing his knowledge and concerns and nothing being done. He asked me why I thought my research and my efforts would be any different. The frustration of others in the room was palpable and heartbreaking.

‘Small-scale fisheries’ are receiving increased attention. Fisheries are one of the oldest statutorily-regulated industries in Canada, with the first Fisheries Act coming into force in 1868, the year after Canada was formed. Since that time, Canada has expanded and diversified, acquiring provinces and territories, and laying claim to the inland and coastal fisheries that come along with them. Canada’s changing geography has occurred in the context of shifting fisheries markets and market access, increased efficiency in fishing technologies, and differing public opinions on who should have access to the fisheries and when. Yet, after more than 150 years of developing fisheries governance, Canada’s current statutory record is relatively scant on the governance of small-scale fisheries.

West Coast fisheries access and decision making have become concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, with fishers, First Nations and other communities marginalized. Failed policies need to be corrected, prioritizing ownership for those who participate, engaging Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers to inform decision making, limiting corporate and foreign ownership and control, and adding domestic markets to export focused fisheries. This chapter analyzes the history and present status of efforts to move licensing policy in this direction.

Map of British Columbia coast with locations where surveys were conducted (size of the circle indicates the number of surveys conducted in each location. Map reproduced from Bennett et al. (2021) with permission.

Small-scale commercial fisheries are essential to thriving coastal communities, yet the future of such fisheries is uncertain. The purpose of our research was to understand the perceived well-being of independent small-scale fishers who own their own enterprises in British Columbia, Canada. We developed a survey to understand perceptions of well-being of fishers, including quantitative questions and indicators on participants’ perceptions of their life satisfaction, satisfaction with fisheries, and market and non-market measures of well-being. Overall, the 118 fishers who responded to our survey were fairly satisfied with life, and quite satisfied with fishing livelihoods, although more so with non-market benefits than from fishing income.

Area A crab fishing in the Hecate Strait. Photo credit: Chelsey Elli.

Understanding how small-scale fisheries management in Canada is gendered is necessary to create inclusive and equitable management. Recognizing this need, the following section illustrates the importance of including gender in small-scale fisheries management and the current barriers various groups of women face in participating fully in management spaces. We focus specifically on the gendered experience of women, due to the historic and on-going discrimination and inequalities faced by women. While this review focuses on the experience and barriers of women compared to that of men, we acknowledge that gender is about more than women, and that a full understanding of gender in small-scale fisheries must explore the power dynamics and relationships between men, women, and other gender identities.

About the editors

Evan J. Andrews

Evan Andrews is a scientist working at the intersections of governance, social-ecological change, and transdisciplinarity, largely in the contexts for small-scale fisheries. He is the lead editor of Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada and co-founder of SSF-Can. He has a PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability. Currently, he is a Senior Research Fellow in Too Big To Ignore: A Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research and a postdoctoral research fellow in the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I, both based at Memorial University.

Christine Knott

Dr. Christine Knott is an interdisciplinary scholar with degrees in Anthropology (BA), Women’s Studies (BA and MWS), Sociology (PhD). She is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. She is also an Ocean Nexus Center Research Associate and a collaborator with the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) FOCI project. Dr. Knott’s current research builds on her previous work aiming to better understand the broader social and ecological ramifications of current gendered and racialized labour processes within resource extraction and processing industries. Her research aims to investigate interactions among resource dependent communities, government policies, global corporate capitalism, labour mobility regimes, and animal enclosure and commodification to better understand the broader social and ecological ramifications within fishing, aquaculture, and seafood processing industries.

TBTI Global Book Series

Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada is the tenth book published under TBTI Global Book Series. This publication series aims to highlight why we need to pay close attention to small-scale fisheries. The series will be of use to anyone interested in learning more about small-scale fisheries, especially about their important contribution to livelihoods, well-being, poverty alleviation and food security, as well as to those who are keen to help raise profile of small-scale fisheries in the policy realm.

How to cite

Andrews, E. J., & Knott, C. (Ed.) 2023. Thinking Big about Small-Scale Fisheries in Canada. TBTI Global Publication Series, St. John's, NL,Canada. ISBN: 978-1-7773202-9-4