By Irene Brueckner-Irwin and Sondra Eger
Waterloo, ON

On World Oceans Day (June 8, 2017), we met for a 2-day workshop at the University of British Columbia to discuss oceans and fisheries access issues in Canada. Access cluster co-leads – Megan Bailey and Nathan Bennett – organized the workshop in order to launch the OceanCanada Access working group, with the goals of taking stock of access issues in Canada, as well as identifying the linkages between access and the wellbeing of coastal communities. We engaged with transdisciplinary expertise and experience in addressing these goals, and workshop participants included community resource users and representatives, Indigenous rights-holders and representatives, and researchers. Participants actively engaged in thematic sessions relating to access over the course of the workshop, which led to the sharing of diverse perspectives and the emergence of key themes.

The first theme included the broad recognition that coastal communities in Canada are not prioritized when it comes to decision-making about our oceans. These communities are often rural, and have been losing access to ocean space and resources over time at the benefit of provincial and federal economic agendas. For example, small-scale inshore fishers have lost ownership of fisheries licenses to corporate agencies, and access of coastal and marine areas are being prioritized for energy development (e.g., tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy) and resource extraction (e.g., oil and gas). Additionally, international commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity have driven a federal mandate prioritizing conservation initiatives (i.e., marine protected areas). Much decision-making about our ocean resources continue to be made with economic and international justification, despite the reality that the social, cultural, and traditional values of access are critical to coastal communities.

Another key theme that emerged from the workshop was that, while access to ocean space and resources are critical for coastal communities, access to decision-making processes about the ocean is also extremely important to ensure participation, ownership, legitimacy, and transparency. At the workshop, we heard about experiences where those with high stakes or rights in accessing ocean space (i.e., coastal and Indigenous communities) were either inadequately consulted, or were excluded from decision-making processes entirely. The need for equitable access to process was identified, as well as the use and respect of different types of knowledge in those processes. The benefits of applying local, academic, and Indigenous knowledge was discussed at length.

Throughout the workshop, it was clear that these themes must be addressed in order to secure the wellbeing of coastal communities in Canada. To that end, the OceanCanada Access working group has identified future research needs and collaborations as a result of the workshop, and we look forward to continued partnership as we strive to create a shared vision for Canada’s oceans.

Photo credit: Sondra Eger

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