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Jennifer Woodland is chief executive officer of Indigenous-owned Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood LP and chair of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance. Carey Bonnell is vice-president of sustainability and engagement for Ocean Choice International and chair of the Fisheries Council of Canada.

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C., Oct. 31, 2018.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

It’s the perfect resource for an economy taking aim at a postpandemic recovery.

Mix an environmentally-sustainable product with the capacity to double its value within 20 years, add in tens of thousands of new jobs which can’t be relocated and, as a bonus, make it healthy for Canadian diets.

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We’re talking about Canadian fish and seafood. And we have the blueprint to make it happen if the federal government gets behind our plan.

We’re at a critical phase for a Canadian industry that, in just one generation, has dipped from the world’s leading seafood exporter to eighth place, losing out to fishing giants such as Norway and Iceland, where governments have made the enhancement of their industry and its technologies a higher priority.

It won’t take much to return the Canadian fish and seafood industry to its rightful place as a global powerhouse on the water through a modern-day emphasis on world-leading quality over quantity.

As part of a “blue economy” strategy, we are looking to government for a hand up, not a handout, in a sector where one dollar of investment equals $10 worth of economic benefits, according to the multination High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, of which Canada is a charter member.

But the federal government has to want to make this happen. And under the current mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, it can’t do this. The federal government has to decide, like so many other countries around the world, to either expand the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans to include growth and bring in new thinking and ideas, or cut bait and give this mandate to another department. Without this, our sector will languish. It needs a federal champion.

A government-endorsed strategy awaiting consultation has not yet, unfortunately, been implemented.

How can it be done? For starters, the Canadian government needs to reflect not only our dedication to boosting wild fishing stocks, but also to recognize the rapid growth of seafood farming which will, within the next decade or two, become the largest supplier of fish and seafood in this country.

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An Aquaculture Act to complement the Fisheries Act has been a major ask for decades. While there are encouraging signs this could happen, we must underline the pressing need for a one-stop entry point for modern rules and regulations.

As well, many Indigenous and coastal communities rely on the seafood sector. If it disappears, dependent families will scatter and towns and villages will struggle, shutting off opportunities for Indigenous partnerships and leadership.

With the government as a partner, our achievable goal is to double seafood development, its economic impact and public consumption inside of 20 years. Today’s 80,000 workers in the sector will grow in tandem, and these are jobs that can’t be relocated to low-tax havens and, as this year has shown, are largely resistant to layoffs during a pandemic.

It’s time to colour the Canadian economy with a lot more blue to mix with green initiatives now forming the backbone of government environmental policy. A blue-green economy is the perfect partnership to fight climate change, given seafood generally has a lower carbon footprint than raising animals on land.

Now, all this won’t help the sector without increased demand for our products. While global consumption is forecast to grow between 7 per cent and 9 per cent a year, there is an enormous opportunity for Canadians to eat more, especially fresh and local Canadian product. Seniors get it, and middle-aged Canadians are increasingly recognizing its dietary importance. Millennials and Gen Z, with their drive for convenient and healthy meal options, can tap into the new ways that fresh and sustainable seafood is being prepared and delivered.

We see that pattern starting to change as Canadians rediscovered the joys of cooking seafood at home during the pandemic lockdown. We believe it could become a lifelong culinary choice for today’s youth if there’s greater government-assisted public education and promotion.

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And, while we’re sorry to sound like nagging parents, the vitamin and minerals found in seafood are a vital part of any healthy diet.

So put more fish on your fork. It’s good for you, the environment and our economy. And there’s nothing fishy about that.

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