“Sustainable” Certified Herring: A Long Swim Ahead to True Sustainability

Last week the Marine Stewardship Council certified Canada’s largest herring fishery as “sustainable and well-managed”. Despite this eco-check mark, the Ecology Action Centre continues to be concerned about this fishery. Continue reading


What’s going on with Atlantic Canadian sharks?

Shark Week has begun! While I like all the attention I get for the week, I thought I’d take some time to address some things that hit a bit closer to home – some of the real problems facing sharks in Atlantic Canada. Continue reading

Making Fishing Fair

Coils of bottom longline. Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.

by Sadie Beaton. Our oceans are vast, and filled with mystery. Though we may enjoy seafood or even an ocean view, many of us don’t have a clue what happens on fishing boats, let alone under the water. Unmistakable though, … Continue reading

Recognizing and Protecting our Small-Scale Fisheries

Photo courtesy of Too Big To Ignore

Guest contribution by Sharmane Allen. Small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of many of Canada’s coastal communities. A current initiative undertaken by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calls on Canadians to recognize and protect this cornerstone by … Continue reading

Expanding Horizons- Complexity and Scale at the 2012 International Seafood Summit


Guest post by Rob Johnson, SeaChoice Representative from Ecology Action Centre

For the first time in its ten-year history, SeaWeb’s International Seafood Summit made it’s way to Asia last month. Under the banner of “Evolving Solutions for New Horizons” leaders across the global seafood industry and conservation community gathered in Hong Kong to grapple with complicated and pressing issues surrounding seafood sustainability. Notably lacking in representation, however were actual fishermen- the small-scale operators that make their livelihood bringing sustainable quality seafood to market.

What started out ten years ago as a small meeting of NGOs has shifted into a global seafood industry-focused forum- a platform and catalyst for social change through advancing a growing sustainable seafood movement. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for leading North American conservation organizations, sixteen of which have partnered to pursue a Common Vision for Environmentally Sustainable Seafood and work together as the Conservation Alliance for Sustainable Solutions.

I traveled from Nova Scotia where I work as part of the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) Marine program. The EAC is part of The Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, as well as a member organization of SeaChoice – a comprehensive national seafood program that has been involved in many past summits. SeaChoice works to help Canadian businesses and consumers make the most ocean-friendly seafood choices to support the long-term health of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.SeafoodSummitRemarks2012

The keynote address, led by WorldFish Centre’s Stephen Hall, was a marked departure from the usual western-styled focus on species-specific fisheries management. Hall instead emphasized a more holistic theory of change highlighting the need for increased contributions to food security and economic development. His perspective helped elevate the sustainable seafood dialogue to include more social, political and economic factors.  For me, working at the EAC-where our program areas encompass the gamut of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture issues, from fisheries policy, marine spatial planning, sustainable seafood, and coastal livelihoods- this was a welcome frame.

Because the panel discussions and workshops were often dominated by large seafood businesses and international conservation organizations, I couldn’t help but notice the missing voice from sustainable small-scale fisheries. On a couple of occasions I saw a comment or question by a fisherman- borne out of direct on-the-water knowledge- that silenced a room full of seafood professionals with straightforwardness and sensibility.

Eco-certification was the focus of a significant amount of the Summit discussion. As major retailers in North America have partnered with conservation organizations and committed to sustainable seafood policies, certification has become the key message many are using to convey responsibility and sustainability. All the talk of large industrial fishery certifications made me think about the truly sustainable small-scale fisheries that fly under the radar of these schemes- like Nova Scotia’s Chedabucto Bay Trap-Caught Shrimp. Lost in the complexity, perhaps, was the simple adage of knowing who your fisherman is, what they catch, where and when, as the real assurance of sustainability.


Sustainable seafood is impossibly large and complex – from the international financial markets that fuel the bustle of Hong Kong to the quiet solitude of a lone clam digger working the sand along the Bay of Fundy.  On the long flight home I was left wondering, how can we broaden the engagement in progressive debate, discussion and meaningful collaborations across the seafood industry? How can we all work together to achieve the goal of widespread and lasting change on the water?

In the end, eco-certifications are but one tool in the toolbox, and let’s not forget, these are voluntary standards and schemes that are simply proliferating in the vacuous space left by lack of government regulation on seafood labeling the type of fish, where it’s from, and how it was caught or farmed. Then again, small-scale fishermen and aquaculturists have always been in the best position to know and convey this information…

Small Scale is a Big Deal

Guest post by Dr. Tony Charles, Saint Mary’s University.

It seems that one of the least-known facts in fisheries is that over ninety percent of them are small-scale, made up of people around the world going out fishing in small boats that stay close to shore, or even harvesting along the shore, people with close ties to their coastal communities and for whom fishing is both a livelihood and a way of life. That’s not to say that 90% of the fish caught in the world is from small-scale fisheries, because there are too many large factory-style boats out there, but if you count up the fisheries and the people in them, the vast majority are small scale.

Zanzibar fishing boats

Fishing off Zanzibar

There are many reasons why that fact may be little known. The lobbyists that influence fishery policy tend to be from industrial fisheries. The scientific methods that are developed to study fisheries tend to be oriented toward large scales. Internationally, organizations like the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies fisheries as ‘sustainable’, have tended to favour large scale. And here in Canada, the federal government seems to place little value on small-scale fisheries, indeed hardly even recognizing some of them.

There is a need to better recognize and support small-scale fisheries, and happily there are some positive signs. This SmallScales.ca blog is a great initiative to put the focus back where it belongs. Not far from here, in New England, a meeting took place just a couple of weeks ago to plan better support for small-boat coastal fisheries, from conservation, livelihood and community perspectives. And on a global level, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),  which is responsible for tackling food and poverty issues, is increasing the attention it pays to small-scale fisheries, after years of neglect.

In fact, the FAO is working right now to develop a new approach to support small-scale fisheries around the world. This is responding to pressure from a growing presence of fishery organizations, such as the World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP). These groups developed a statement in 2008 describing the ways that small-scale fisheries and fisherfolk need to be supported worldwide, and are now working at the UN to have their goals implemented.

Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island

Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island

That initiative internationally is good news for the many small-scale fisheries in Canada – from the longstanding lobster fishery and the newer Off the Hook CSF, to clammers along the coast, to aboriginal food fisheries right across the country. Fishermen here in Canada are connecting with their counterparts elsewhere in the world right now, contributing to the important efforts through the UN and FAO to support small-scale fisheries.

These connections are especially important now, because the Canadian government is posing a big threat to our small- scale fisheries. Not only has it failed to properly enforce the owner-operator policy that helps to maintain small-boat fishing, in a display of remarkable ignorance it essentially denies the existence of small-scale fisheries within Canada, or at best sees them as out-of-date and in need of ‘phasing out’. Of course, that defies common sense – this blog site is evidence of the big role of small-scale fisheries, especially as sustainable economic engines of coastal communities and as the heart of the social fabric of the coast.

So how can Ottawa better support our small-scale fisheries? This will be the topic on October 18, when we have the rare opportunity to hear WFFP fishery representatives from around the world together with those from the small-scale fisheries movement across Canada. This will take place in a public meeting at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (7:30pm) – a forum to discuss and publicize progress on the international scene and the challenges faced in Canada by our small-scale fisheries. You’re welcome to come and join the discussion.