Visions for Ocean Sustainability by 2020

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By Julia Baum, Biology, University of Victoria

My vision for our oceans in 2020 is that Canada will have reclaimed its role as a global environmental leader, and our ocean conservation policies and achievements will be a worthy example of this leadership.

Oceans provide Canadian society with important services including seafood, recreation, tourism, cultural identity, and climate regulation. The integrity of these ecosystems is, however, threatened by the cumulative impacts of our activities and by our own government’s mismanagement. As a Canadian scientist and as a parent, I am deeply concerned with the current state of our oceans.

Turning things around requires that we harness our collective energy, passion, and talent to:

  • Engage and inspire Canadians from coast to coast about the wondrous beauty of our oceans, as well as the connections between our oceans and the health of our economy and environment, so that they will demand better ocean policy from our leaders;
  • Implement and enforce marine protected areas (MPAs) covering 20% of Canada’s waters, with representation in all three oceans and all major habitats. At least half our MPAs will be no-take areas. The rest will span a range of uses, as part of a strategic ocean-zoning plan that recognizes uses and impacts in the ocean beyond fishing. We will be bold and informed. Uncertainty will not be an excuse for inaction;
  • Reduce fishing pressure swiftly and substantially to ensure recovery of all marine fish populations to at least the biomass associated with their maximum sustainable yield. We will develop new fisheries in the Arctic and elsewhere only after baseline data are collected to inform management of these resources and their habitats;
  • Enhance scientific research and monitoring programs in oceanic ecosystems, with the goal of better understanding how our oceans work, how our activities change them, and what properties are key to conserve to ensure that our our oceans continue to provide us with the services upon which we rely;
  • Fulfill our national obligations under the Oceans Act, and our international obligations including those of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, as well as commitments under Rio+20 Future We Want.

Toward this end, I commit to conducting science relevant to this mission, to being a vocal advocate for scientific evidence, to helping to train the next generation of ocean scientists, to engaging the public, and to instilling in young Canadians an appreciation for science and a love of our oceans. By 2020, my young son will have formed his identity as a Canadian. I hope it is one of environmental leadership that both he and I will be proud of.




By Susanna Fuller, Marine Issues Committee, Ecology Action Centre

My Vision of Oceans Sustainability by 2020 - In 2020, Canada has fully committed to protecting ocean biodiversity, addressing impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and to environmentally sustainable management of fisheries resources as well as extractive industries, including oil and gas and sea bed mining. Canadians are engaged in ocean protection and policy implementation. Canada is a leader in ocean science, best practices in national and international oceans management. 

Most importantly, Canada has taken the following actions:

  • All fish stocks have recovery targets and timelines for recovery with clear management consequences if these targets are not met.
  • All marine species at risk have fully implemented recovery strategies.
  • The Sensitive Benthic Areas Policy and the Bycatch Policy are included in all Integrated Fisheries Management Plans
  •  Where ever possible, low impact fishing gears are incentivised through pro-active fisheries management policy and market demand.
  • Only aquaculture that does not degrade marine ecosystems and wild fish species is permitted in coastal and open ocean regions.
  • There is a recommitment to implementing Canada’s Oceans Act, including collaborative and integrated management.
  • Fifteen percent of our oceans are fully protected, exceeding the Aichi Target of 10%.
  • Canada has ratified an agreement under UNCLOS to protect high seas marine diversity, thus filling the present gaps in high seas governance.
  • Canada’s marine scientists and research programs are well funded and consequently viewed as some of the best in the world, and our research is being used globally for conservation and protection of marine resources.

To achieve my vision we need ACTION. We cannot expect government to lead without being pushed; we cannot expect scientists to engage unless they have a renewed sense of purpose and value; and we cannot expect the public to care unless they are engaged.
If these actions are taken, we may be able to stem the tide of degradation of our coastal and marine ecosystems. We may re-establish ourselves as a country respected for ocean science. We may reap the benefits of marine conservation, continue to enjoy wild seafood, see our ocean habitats and populations start to recover, and have protected enough area that our ocean ecosystems are buffered from some of the impacts of climate change. We will feel proud that our government has listened and that our oceans are truly managed for the public good. We may reignite curiosity and a sense of wonder in what our oceans have to offer. If we fail to do these things, we commit ourselves to a future where we have fundamentally failed our oceans and ourselves. 

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By Richard Haedrich, Biology, Memorial University

Sustainability is a slippery term.   Ask a fisherman, an economist, a mariner or an environmentalist what it means for the ocean.  You’ll get very different answers.  Even within any group individual situations matter so much that the trawlerman from Murmansk, the lobsterman from Salvage, the crabber from Tilghman Island and the shrimper from Pascagoula will offer very differing perspectives.

A social science colleague and I wrestled with the question of sustainability some years ago as we tried to deconstruct the Newfoundland cod collapse.  Context, we found, matters.  It’s necessary to specify in detail not only what is to be sustained, but also at what particular levels and for how long a time.  Nothing is sustainable forever, but what is appropriate?  The year 2020 is only 1/3 of a grenadier generation away; it’s impossible to tell where that fish might be headed.  But 2020 is more than one political generation away.  So one has to enter the political realm to concoct a vision only 6 years in the future.  Unfortunately, a “policy trap” is inherent to that world and the situation is not likely to change very soon.  Short political generation times relative to much longer natural time scales means that a decision that may work over the short term (e.g. number of jobs created initially), can prove disastrous over the long term (Haedrich & Hamilton,  2000).

Political guesswork is not something I’m good at.  Confucius suits me better than Cassandra.  Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future”, and that’s where I’ve turned.  During the more than 50 years I’ve been going to sea as a practicing oceanographer there have been great changes in practice of the science and perceptions of the ocean.  Throughout for me it’s been the fun of it, always with a passion for trawling.  I’ve written about all that, in 'A Passion for Trawling'.  Can this personal look at the past suggest where we might be in the future?


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By Rashid Sumaila, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia 

To achieve ocean sustainability by 2020, we need to stop the current 'bad economics' being practiced by governments and fisheries managers around the world. We have to eliminate or redirect the current massive amounts of harmful fisheries subsidies being given to the fishing sector by many governments around the world, which is estimated to be at least 60% of the total estimated subsidies of $27 billion a year. Second, we will have to make IUU fishing uneconomic. Currently the benefits of engaging in IUU fishing far outweighs the cost of doing so if apprehended. To achieve ocean sustainability this perverse incentive needs to be changed. Third, fisheries managers and governments have to more forcefully defend the needs of future generations and ecology in their design and implementation of fisheries policy and management. In this way, they will be in position to push back on the short term thinking that is incompatible with sustainable use of ocean resources.


By Marjo Vierros, Inst of Advanced Studies and Traditional Knowledge Unit, United Nations University 

Canada’s oceans and coasts are managed with a view for long-term sustainability and intergenerational equity, rather than short-term economic benefits. There is broad recognition that the health of the oceans is intricately tied to the well-being of all Canadians, and thus threats to biodiversity in the oceans are controlled, large-scale ecosystem processes, and the habitats and species that depend on them, are protected and resources are sustainable used.  All stakeholders, including in particular coastal communities, are empowered to play a role in management. Local successes are scaled up, learned from and shared. Management promotes resilience of people and biodiversity, considers cumulative impacts, is adaptable to changing circumstances, and is being informed by timely and sound policy-relevant science and traditional knowledge.  Sectoral uses are accommodated through a participatory process of marine spatial planning.  The Government of Canada has put in place enabling policies for sustainable oceans management and actively participates in global initiatives on emission reductions to combat ocean warming and acidification.



By Amanda Vincent, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia 

Coming soon...


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By Fred Whoriskey, Ocean Tracking Network, Dalhousie University

We are at a point where human use of all facets of the oceans is about to explode. The term “Blue economy” is now common globally, and the economic benefits anticipated to flow from ocean development are viewed as a panacea for the doldrums of the current world economy.  In the next 10 years we will see an unprecedented expansion of human activities in the ocean, and many of the proposed uses will be mutually exclusive. Biological resources will remain critically important to humans for their contributions to food security, ecosystem services, cultural needs, and the recreational industries built around them. In the face of these rapidly expanding pressures, the supporters of the differing biological uses of the ocean will need to massively increase public awareness of the need for a healthy ocean, and unite their efforts to resist developments that are not compatible with healthy biological resources. They will also be called upon routinely to find ways in which a healthy ocean and the new development can coexist, or be marginalized. The development pressures will rapidly push biological resources to their maximum tolerances. To manage on this edge will require a massive increase in biological monitoring, and it needs to start now to establish baseline conditions. This is going to require global coordination, and global cooperation among scientists and managers. To meet this need our current science culture will have to change, and marine scientists will need to be far more open in sharing their data and be willing to participate in global networks. We will also need to rapidly develop the capacity to forecast ecosystem responses to new anthropogenic perturbations.   Now is the time to establish as many marine protected areas as we can, because it will impossible once developments have advanced.

What is your vision for ocean sustainability by 2020? 

How can Canada ensure sustainable oceans by 2020?  It's an ambitious goal! What are the tangible steps that need to occur to accomplish this goal?