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Aquatic science biologist Howie Manchester pulls a bucket of salmon to collect samples from during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Emily De Sousa is a fisheries researcher, with a background in marine policy. She is also a travel and food writer.

How can one person be responsible for overseeing the extraction and preservation of the same resource? This is a question that those in Canada’s seafood industry have been asking for a long time.

The country’s aquaculture and fisheries are overseen by the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard – the same minister who is responsible for carrying out commitments related to ocean conservation. As a result, Canada’s seafood industry has fallen behind on a global scale.

While Canada was once a leader in global seafood production, it is now ranked 24th in the world. This is not a position that the country with the longest coastline on the planet should be in, especially with seafood demand expected to double by 2050.

So why has our seafood industry stagnated while that of other countries has expanded? It’s a matter of clashing priorities and a failure in governance of fisheries and aquaculture resources.

The mandate for Fisheries and Oceans Canada asks that the minister “grow Canada’s ocean and freshwater economy” and simultaneously ensure that Canada meets its “goals to conserve 25 per cent of our lands and waters by 2025, and 30 per cent of each by 2030.” These tasks are in clear conflict with one another – and the result is detrimental damage to the seafood sector.

The adverse effect is reflected in two recent policy decisions by federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray: the closure of the Discovery Islands salmon farms (a move first proposed by her predecessor) and the creation of a network of marine protected areas in some of British Columbia’s most productive fishing grounds.

The decision to allow the Discovery Islands farms to continue operating should have been an easy one. B.C. produces 87,000 tonnes of farmed salmon annually, making farmed Atlantic salmon the province’s number one agrifood export. And while salmon farming has been a contentious topic in British Columbia for years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ own best available science has continued to prove that the farms are operating in a sustainable way that poses a minimal risk to wild salmon. But with conflicting priorities to “support the long-term sustainable growth of Canada’s fish and seafood sector” while upholding the Liberal government’s unscientific commitment to “transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025,″ the minister is left trying to appease competing priorities.

It’s not just the aquaculture sector that’s being restricted. In February, wild-capture fisheries in British Columbia became a target when the minister announced her endorsement of the Northern Shelf Bioregion Network Action Plan, a network of protected areas that will directly affect at least 75 per cent of commercial fishing revenue in the province and result in a loss of more than 100 million high-protein meals.

These recent announcements also contradict some of Canada’s international commitments to be a leader in the blue economy. The seafood sector has the highest employment and contribution to GDP of all blue economy industries in Canada, but decisions such as the two mentioned above are resulting in the loss of investment, as well as incomes and jobs – many of which are held by members of Indigenous communities. This includes those involved in seafood directly, and those employed in supporting infrastructure and businesses.

Putting the growth of the Canada’s seafood industry and its ocean conservation goals in the hands of one person is a clear conflict of interest. And whereas the Canadian agriculture industry has a representative to advocate for them, the seafood industry does not.

As a result, it is suffering, Canadians’ long-term access to domestic food sources is being diminished, First Nations reconciliation efforts are being undermined, and the culture and economic livelihoods of coastal communities is slowly being destroyed.

The seafood industry is integral to the economic and social fabric of this country, and Canada has an unparalleled opportunity to be a global leader in sustainable seafood production – but in order to get there, the industry needs a proper champion in government.

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