Wading in the Blue: Fostering a shared understanding of sustainable development, ocean governance, and Blue Justice for SSF


‘Blue Growth’ and ‘Blue Economy’ are gaining traction in the discussion about ocean research, sustainable development strategies, and the future of Canadian fisheries and oceans. But what do these concepts mean? What do they imply in terms of benefits and costs? Are they explicit about who benefits, and who is left behind? Answers to key questions are often left implicit, and as researchers from OFI Module I demonstrate, vagueness can have dramatic implications for coastal communities.

This month, we are highlighting ideas presented by OFI Module I researchers at the recent MARE People and the Sea virtual conference held in June. We reflect on approaches taken by OFI Module I researchers to deepen understanding of “Blue” relating to Blue Economy, Blue Growth, and Blue Justice narratives in Canada, considering:

  1. How conceptual vagueness in Blue Growth and Blue Economy creates tension between development and other objectives such as sustainability, including justice and equity; and

  2. How a governance framework grounded in principles of justice and transdisciplinarity can foster a shared understanding for coastal fisheries governance.

As reported in the pop-ups, MARE presentations reveal opportunities to clarify language and constructs in the Blue Economy, in order to develop a shared understanding of sustainable ocean development. For example, concepts such as infrastructure, a top spending priority for many governments globally, rarely consider the people who are hampered, marginalized, and excluded by its development. Even the word “sustainability” is rarely defined, and often only considered in the context of maintaining something into the future, rather than thinking about how desirable that something might be, and who might benefit or suffer from the outcome. The presentations invite critical questions like: Infrastructure for whom? Sustainability for whom? Justice for whom?

Other presentations from OFI-Module I ground a shared understanding of sustainability and development in principles of Blue Justice and transdisciplinarity, with the SSF Guidelines providing a functional set of principles that help to ensure no one is left behind in ocean development and the “Blue” discourse. Transdisciplinarity provides researchers with an approach to work with coastal communities and fisherfolk who are continually marginalized in governance related to sustainable development, as potentially proposed in Canada’s Blue Economy Strategies. Unpacking “Blue” in narratives of Blue Growth, Blue Economy, and exploring opportunities in Blue Justice can support ocean governance by, with, and for fisheries and coastal communities. Blue Justice is also a crucial lens to foster a deep, shared understanding of these issues as we work towards Getting IT Right.