Finding a Place for Sustainable Seafood in Nova Scotia’s Universities

by Justin Cantafio.

A couple of times a week, students of Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University line up in cafeterias across campus, ready to fill their plates with the seafood flavour of the day. These kitchens consume a whopping 700 to 900 kg of seafood every month through Aramark’s food services program. When dealing with these kinds of volumes, it can be hard to know where that seafood came from, who caught it, and how. Is it being harvested sustainably, in a way that is less damaging to the environment? Is it fairly priced to allow fishermen in our rural communities to make a decent living? These are important questions, especially for a school like Dalhousie which has a global reputation as a leader in ocean sciences and sustainability.

For over a decade, the Ecology Action Centre’s Marine Program has engaged in several projects aimed at growing awareness of sustainable seafood choices. This has been done through consumer education, developing procurement policies with retailers through our partnership in SeaChoice, engaging as a stakeholder in eco-certification processes, conducting and participating in assessments for various seafood ranking systems, helping establish SlowFish Canada, and co-founding and managing Off the Hook, Atlantic Canada’s first Community Supported Fishery or CSF. These initiatives have helped connect Nova Scotia’s small-scale fisheries and coastal communities to new and existing markets, and seek to maximize the value of the resources while providing consumers access to sustainable seafood with the comfort of knowing the answers to those important questions.

An example of traceable small-scale distribution; Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery

An example of traceable small-scale seafood distribution; Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery

Perhaps the most tangible of these projects is Off the Hook founded in 2010, which delivers “fresh fair fish” to its 300 CSF members at 13 pick-up locations. Off the Hook has been learning from the success of the Community Supported Agriculture model, while at the same time trying to address challenges specific to small-scale fisheries in local food systems. In addition, in an effort to bring more products and harvesters into its system, Off the Hook has been exploring new ways to distribute sustainable seafood to new markets, including restaurants, retailers, and institutions.

Securing large orders with high value markets such as institutions helps to divert seafood caught by small-scale fisheries from the commodity market, where it isn’t differentiated from other products or recognized for the fact that it may be more socially and environmentally responsible. Maximizing the value of our sustainably caught seafood contributes to sustainable livelihoods and thriving coastal communities, which is integral to the mission of Off the Hook and the EAC’s marine program.

That’s why we’re so excited to announce that last week, Dalhousie University launched its commitment to local and sustainable seafood, and has agreed to sourcing 1200 pounds of hook-and-line caught groundfish for a 6-week trial period in partnership with Off the Hook. All seafood sourced for this program will come from small-scale fisheries using low-impact fishing gears, and can be traced directly back to the fisher.

Seafood products on display at Dalhousie's sustainable seafood kick-off event

Seafood products and dishes on display at Dalhousie’s sustainable seafood kick-off event

This trial is an excellent opportunity to show support for our coastal communities while educating students on the importance of their seafood choices. This project will connect students directly to small-scale fisheries, opening up doors for new projects and collaborations.

The EAC has also begun discussions with a Meal Exchange student leader and the food service manager from Chartwell’s at Mount Saint Vincent University about a possible seafood procurement shift at the university. The EAC is excited to engage other institutions within and outside Nova Scotia to continue having these important conversations and establishing dialogue.

In the meantime, we’re also continuing to engage with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the fishing industry to ensure that conservation measures are in place for species-at-risk that are caught in the groundfish fishery, and to increase awareness about the importance of these species.  We hope that this work will help further reduce the impact of the bottom longline fishery in particular.


Ecology Action Centre and Off the Hook on display at Dalhousie


Institutions can play an important role in valuing our small-scale, low impact fisheries in Nova Scotia. Cultivating demand for traceable, sustainable seafood helps to reconnect institutions, consumers, and the public with our fishermen and to support our coastal communities. Having Dalhousie University on board for this pilot project solidifies the fact that our institutions can be leaders in supporting local and sustainable seafood, and the success of this trial can put similar shifts within reach for other institutions that might be on the fence or new to the local and sustainable seafood conversation

Justin Cantafio is Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner at the Ecology Action Centre, in Halifax, NS. Justin has a background in environmental ecology, and holds a Master of Resource and Environmental Management. His interests include sustainable food production and distribution, with a focus on food security and localization.


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