Highlights from Canada's UN Ocean Science Decade workshop

World Ocean's Week in Focus


The United Nations declared 2021-2031 as the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

On March 3rd, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, Bernadette Jordan officially launched the Ocean Science Decade in Canada, and from May 12th to 13th, Canada hosted a workshop that invited stakeholders and rightsholders to discuss a Canadian blueprint for the Decade. The overarching mission of the Decade is to create transformative solutions for sustainable development, connecting people and the ocean to facilitation the transition from the “ocean we have” to the “ocean we want”. The United Nations has outlined seven priority areas for the Decade: a clean ocean, a healthy and resilient ocean, a productive and sustainable ocean, a predicted ocean, a safe ocean, an accessible ocean, and an inspiring and engaging ocean. In this story, we present a summary of the workshop related to the priority areas, reflecting on the role of governance and small-scale fisheries in Canada’s Decade priorities.

The workshop consisted of plenary presentations by Inspiring Speakers, as well as an interactive breakout session for each of the priority areas. The Canadian workshop leaders invited attendees to flesh out an Ocean Science Decade Blueprint based on what Canadian research and knowledge holders can contribute and they need to work on together related to the priority areas. During the workshop, knowledge from and about small-scale fisheries, and coastal and Indigenous communities were connected to many of the priorities. Attendees argued diverse knowledges will play a crucial role in addressing all of these priority outcomes. Cross-cutting themes of equity, inclusion, and diversity, capacity building, information, data, and knowledge, communication, and co-designed and co-delivered solutions were also identified. Although, some opportunities existed for more holistic thinking and incorporation of human activity related to the priority areas and cross-cutting themes.

How might Canada prioritize small-scale fisheries and support the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities?

One key aspect that came through across all sessions was the importance of communication, across and within disciplines, and among all stakeholders and rightsholders connected to the ocean. In opening and closing sessions an emphasis was made on building trust and listening to knowledge holders in small-scale fisheries and coastal communities to co-design, co-development, and co-deliver local governance, including conservation programs and management actions for fisheries that promote sustainability. Further, presenters argued for equal valuation of all knowledge systems, ensuring contributions of rightsholders are attributed and respected. It was argued that Canada should increase support for research, monitoring, and management capacity building in rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities, by providing funding, training, and equipment. It was also argued that non-fishing marine industries such as tourism and ocean energy should also be prioritized when they support healthy and resilient coastal communities. One presenter argued that ensuring that community engagement or consultation is not merely a box to tick but results in meaningful collaboration, reflected in a Two-Eyed Seeing approach, and co-designing policies and actions that meet the needs of coastal communities. All these arguments were exciting and promising, but sometimes they were not connected to discussions and report-backs from the priority area breakouts.

Workshop attendees argued that in A Clean Ocean, improving waste management and identifying, preventing, and reducing pollution at the source is essential for sustainable development. Breakouts discussed how for remote, rural, and coastal communities, funding was needed for waste management infrastructure, clean energy and technology that is accessible and affordable. Reducing marine pollution, including better management of plastics and sewage, co-ordinating monitoring and analysis of legacy contaminants and invasive species, and establishing a circular economy where producers are held responsible for waste management were suggested actions to improve ocean health and thus human health and wellbeing.

Attendees described A Safe Ocean as one where pollution is reduced, monitoring, prediction, and risk mitigation strategies are strong. There is open communication across sectors and disciplines, and among all rightsholders, stakeholders, levels of government, and academics. Co-creation of knowledge and knowledge translation is fundamental to safe ocean priorities and is a crucial part of sustainable governance for small-scale fishers.

In A Healthy and Resilient Ocean, biodiversity and habitat conservation, and climate change monitoring and data collection emerged as priorities areas. Importantly, research on governance, planning, and management, as well as weaving Indigenous and local knowledge where possible and appropriate, were also considered key to healthy and resilient ocean. It was argued that Canada is uniquely positioned to accel at these priority areas. However, Canada’s unique geography, political systems, and regulatory frameworks evoke many governance and jurisdictional challenges. Knowledge about governance is therefore a crucial opportunity.

Discussions about A Productive and Sustainable Ocean highlighted how sustainable fisheries are primarily management, policy, and social issues – not marine science. Some collective thinking, though, promoted the idea about management and policy science as integral. The notion of small-scale fisheries was discussed as was knowledge about co-management and co-development, knowledge co-production, advancing meaningful partnerships with Indigenous, remote, and coastal communities, and transparent policy and governance practices. By formalizing governance with Two-Eyed Seeing, attendees argued we can support and sustain the lives and livelihoods of small-scale fisheries into the future.

Between A Predicted Ocean and An Accessible Ocean, a common thread became clear: We need to ensure ocean science and data are accessible, using the data we collect for practical applications in coastal and SSF communities. Yet, priorities for a predicted ocean were less about understanding and anticipating human activity, and perhaps did not fully account for the knowledge about governance needed to enable a predicted ocean. Discussions about An Accessible Ocean, however, did incorporate diverse ways of knowing and meaningful partnerships with communities to build research and management capacity, as well as create products and policies that sustain their wellbeing.

Finally, attendees discussed how An Inspiring and Engaging Ocean involves effective and creative communication strategies and methods, increasing ocean education and training, making connections, and increasing accessibility. This involves expanding the traditional realm of ocean science to increase the support and use of social sciences and other forms of knowledge to meet the needs of coastal communities in this Decade.

Across all sessions, a clear message developed: at the heart of nearly every solution is effective governance that works for people. But, many attendees argued that scientists needed to prioritize moving knowledges into concrete actions to create meaningful solutions that benefit society, and in particular the communities intimately linked with the ocean. As the Ocean Science Decade in Canada continues to be defined, discussions will be needed about how to better recognize and address wicked problems for lives and livelihoods and governance for small-scale fisheries in Canada, and this poses opportunities for OFI Module I’s Getting IT Right Dialogue in 2022.