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Challenges and opportunities for equity and justice in Canada’s Blue Economy - Part II

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Blue Economy and Blue Growth are presented as transformative approaches to sustainable development, but social science scholars and practitioners are anticipating these approaches will bring about injustice and inequities. Blue Economy and Blue Growth narratives are often vague and include tension among economic development, social objectives, and conservation. At the centre of this tension are the people who have been, and continue to be, marginalized by Growth and Economy narratives around the world, including in Atlantic Canada. Opportunities exist for discussion about who will be affected and excluded from development, and whether processes and outcomes are desirable, equitable, or just. Communicating and working together across boundaries and disciplines is essential to advance Blue Justice. At the recent MARE conference, OFI researchers presented their work on equity and justice for Canada’s Blue Economy. The two-part presentations revealed challenges and opportunities for equity and justice amid Blue Economy discourse.


Part II:


Dr. Melanie Wiber discussed the consequences of assetization of ocean space in aquaculture leases, defined as converting something into something of value. Using New Brunswick aquaculture as a case study, she discussed how debris and “legacy gear” left behind on sites constituted environmental and economic liabilities, responsibilities for which were not acquired when the assets were purchased. She argued that there was a legal dead zone, where “legacy gear” assets were not able to be removed from sites for clean-up, while the new owner bore no liability for the environmental or other damage done previously or currently by the debris. Dr. Wiber argued that infrastructure placed in the ocean should not be assetized if that infrastructure puts at risk the environmental and economic wellbeing of other ocean users. Some of the recommendations she made were the requirement of remediation plans before leases were awarded, the requirement of ownership details and date labels on deployed gear, and the establishment of an environmental indemnity fund to support debris clean ups in the event of bankruptcy.


Dr. Christine Knott discussed industrial-scale aquaculture in Canada through a colonial-relations lens to look at how aquaculture fits into “sustainable Blue” narratives. She critiqued an emergent narrative of aquaculture as a way to sustainably feed a growing human population. She argued that the narrative was rarely questioned, and while equity was often mentioned, the “how” of equity was left out of the narratives. Further, she argued that by failing to acknowledge the continuation of colonial “frontierism”, the Blue Economy is following the same tragic trajectory seen in terrestrial production – enclosure, private property, and wealth accumulation. She argued for a more overt recognition of Canada’s historical approach to the Blue Economy, and moving beyond shallow “incorporating” traditional knowledge into wester-dominated fisheries management, to a “Two-Eyed Seeing” approach that holds simultaneously the strengths of Indigenous and western knowledges and knowledge systems, and mainstreams using both together to inform governance.


Dr. Evan Andrews discussed how local voices are missing from the Blue Economy, and the psychosocial context of Blue Justice for small-scale fisheries in NL’s Blue Economy. He argued for an interactive governance approach to fisheries and governance grounded in justice principles. Through this lens, he took a story-telling approach to understand fishers’ perceptions of justice and equity issues, starting from everyday problem solving, human behaviours, and interpersonal and structural interactions. He posited that understanding images from a fishers’ perspective is imperative in broadening justice and equity beyond participation to engaging with fishers in a transdisciplinary process of co-developing governance solutions that work for them.


Dr. Paul Foley discussed the opportunities to expand and critique the conventional understanding of ocean and coastal “infrastructure”. He discussed the notion that human-built infrastructures are not neutral, but are foundational to upholding particular values, power relations, ethical regimes, and political structures, while marginalizing and excluding others. He argued that there is a tendency to emphasize infrastructure as things that are good and necessary, and not things that can be harmful. He further called on governments and policymakers to question “infrastructure for whom, and for what purpose?”, and to think critically and carefully about who is marginalized by, and vulnerable to, past, present, and future infrastructures.


A key message from these presentations is that Blue Economy narratives assume consensus on what is just and equitable and what is infrastructure and an economy. Discussions after the presentations highlighted opportunities to clarify the language and constructs in the Blue Economy discourse to develop a shared understanding of sustainability and development to avoid falling back on the status quo. This shared understanding can be grounded in principles of justice and guided by the SSF Guidelines to promote Blue Justice for small-scale fisheries.


Throughout these presentations and discussions, I was struck by how the vague language used in Canada’s Blue Economy strategy sets the stage for a business-as-usual approach to development that overlooks justice and equity of marginalized communities. I kept coming back to ideas of governing with principles of adjacency and historical dependence. From governance perspectives, these principles suggest that people most dependent on fisheries historically and currently, and are therefore affected by related policies and development plans, should be involved in the decision-making. This is one way to safeguard justice for their wellbeing and livelihoods, such as through decisions about access to fishing grounds, safe working conditions, and food distribution. The plasticity of Blue Economy discourse provides opportunities for justice and equity to help Get the Blue Economy Right for small-scale fisheries. Re-defining an economy gives us an opportunity to co-develop governance strategies by, with, and for fishers, and coastal communities. The opportunity for inclusive decision- and policy-making helps recognize and prioritize access rights of coastal and Indigenous communities to fisheries and ocean areas. Making space to integrate small-scale fisheries into the Blue Economy discourse in Canada and beyond to prioritize the lives and livelihoods of people marginalized and most affected by changes such as climate change. Canada’s Blue Economy strategy provides an opportunity to learn from past governance and work together to do better for future generations.