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“It cannot be free to pollute.”

“The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics.”

These were encouraging words from Canada’s Speech from the Throne on September 23. And rightly so, the speech focused on making the health and well-being of Canadians a crucial part of our economic recovery.

Canada’s $32-billion blue economy – our oceans – must also be part of this strategy. The pandemic, climate change, habitat destruction and persistent overfishing have made it more urgent than ever that we invest in our oceans as the Earth’s largest life-support system. Canada now has a unique and powerful opportunity to make our oceans part of a sustainable recovery from COVID-19.

According to government figures, the oceans are a source of approximately 350,000 jobs in Canada — often in communities with few other employment options. The term “blue economy” casts a wide net and can include almost anything related to the ocean: energy, shipping, tourism, recreation, aquaculture, transmission cables and much more. But we can’t afford to ignore the original foundation of the blue economy: wild fish.

The throne speech stated that the government will “look at continuing to grow Canada’s ocean economy to create opportunities for fishers and coastal communities,” adding that “investing in the Blue Economy will help Canada prosper.”

Just two months into the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged us all to “buy Canadian” to “help the people who keep food on our plates,” as his government invested $470 million to help fisheries recover. But you can’t buy Canadian fish if there are no fish to catch. And in many communities along all three coasts, without fish to catch there will be no long-term recovery.

Canada’s fisheries have been severely depleted over many decades, to the point where Oceana Canada’s latest Fishery Audit shows that only about a quarter of them can confidently be considered healthy. The value of Canada’s wild-caught seafood is dominated by a few shellfish species like lobster, crab and shrimp. Should any of these stocks suffer serious declines, the consequences to the fishing industry and communities would be devastating. And the situation is not improving. Our annual audits show that the overall health of Canada’s fish stocks continue to decline. The number of healthy populations has decreased from 2017 to 2020, despite new investments in science and management.

The throne speech made historic ocean commitments and delivering on them is central to harnessing the potential of Canada’s blue economy. In the coming weeks, a new mandate letter will be delivered by the Prime Minister to Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. That letter will contain Canada’s new, or renewed, priorities for our blue economy.

For Canada to create more opportunities for fishers, the seafood industry, and for coastal communities, healthy, abundant oceans must be a central focus of the government’s new fisheries and oceans mandate.

As an investment opportunity, oceans are more valuable now than ever before – and failure to rebuild wild fish populations represents a major loss for future generations. Globally, the ocean economy is the seventh largest economy in the world based on GDP. Ocean and coastal resources and industries contribute about $3 trillion per year (5% of world GDP) to the global economy and offer huge potential for further job creation and innovation.

Oceans are also a major source of renewable energy potential (through offshore wind and potential tidal power) and natural resources. Their environmental value is massive. Oceans eat up human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, produce over half of the world’s oxygen and regulate our climate. More than three billion people around the world depend on the oceans for their livelihoods.

Canada can be a world leader in harnessing the power of the ocean economy for food and job stability at home, and economic growth globally. We believe that investing in the blue economy will help Canada emerge stronger than ever, and hope that the new mandate letter reflects the full potential of our oceans.

We urge the government to renew its investment in rebuilding depleted fish stocks to ensure there are jobs – and fish – for our children and grandchildren.

Without fish, there is no blue economy, without a blue economy there will be no green recovery.

Josh Laughren is executive director of Oceana Canada.

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