Reflections from the Harris Centre Blue Economy Discussion

World Ocean's Week in Focus


Memorial University’s Harris Centre led a Blue Economy discussion for Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) on Friday May 28, 2021. The discussion brought together approximately 100 people leading and working in the ocean sectors of NL and representatives from the federal and provincial governments. The structure of the event was plenaries, then rapid breakout discussions, then coming back together. The 40-minute-long breakout sessions were modelled after the seven topics of the blue economy engagement paper: 1) Natural environment, 2) Innovation, 3) Financing, 4) Science and data, 5) Market access, 6) Business environment, and 7) Regulatory Environment. Participants were first asked: what are the opportunities and challenges to implementing the objectives? Then: what role can Memorial University play in addressing this topic in the blue economy strategy?

Better understanding how the province fits into the blue economy strategy was one of the central questions of the conference. Negotiating ocean space is often highly complex; thus it is important to include voices from many walks of life, including social and natural scientists, government, and invested stakeholders. All these groups were present at Friday’s discussions. Building collaborative spaces where a wide range of stakeholders who are invested in the sustainability of NL’s ocean economy is a step in the right direction.

Collaborative governance often comes with challenges, such as bridging perspectives from radically different backgrounds and finding common ground between individuals working in different jurisdictions and with different interests. But collaboration is necessary for development of strategies like the blue economy and presents a unique learning opportunity. As an inshore fishing person and also a researcher with a strong interest in promoting the viability and sustainability of the inshore fisheries, I confront these challenges head on. My passion for prioritizing inshore fishing and my own livelihood has the potential to conflict with an honest desire for participating in good governance practices. I have learned, however, that critiquing other voices is far more a detriment than an asset. There is much to be gained from listening to a broad range of voices and perspectives. This is at the heart of transdisciplinary research and what the Harris Centre discussion provided.

During the breakout sessions, much was discussed. Participants questioned how institutions and legal and policy frameworks might need to change to accommodate the objectives in the blue economy strategy. It was discussed to what extent NL has the institutional capacity to address these new objectives. There were remarks made about social and economic challenges in preserving traditional oceanic sectors, such as the need to address an aging labor force. Throughout discussions, there were explicit and implicit references to the recent Greene Report. There was fear of an increasing juxtaposition between traditionalism and innovation. A survey was sent out by Harris Centre as a follow-up opportunity for participants to fully flesh out their thoughts and opinions.

Opportunities exist for Ocean Frontier Institute’s Module I to lead future discussions of the blue economy in NL with the upcoming ‘Getting IT Right’ dialogue, and an emphasis on its submodule themes as well as notions of livelihoods, gender, and Blue Justice. During the workshop, it occurred to me that there are opportunities to guide the Blue Economy development and implementation through the lens of the SSF Guidelines. This can be a useful way to ask deeper questions about a Blue Economy strategy for NL, such as who is likely to benefit from blue growth and blue development? This may mean taking a step back from the framing and priority areas promoted in Canada’s Blue Economy engagement paper to ask what principles are shaping a Blue Economy for NL.

It is an honour and a privilege to participate in the Harris Centre blue economy discussion. I am an academic researcher not from the province but funded to examine oceans governance in the region. The importance of these discussions about how to interpret a Blue Economy strategy and to what extent Canada’s key priority areas align with those for NL cannot be understated. Stakeholders come from different backgrounds but share a vested interest in making a better future for NL’s ocean economy. The chance to voice these concerns and the process itself is a premise for any ocean strategy, and a huge asset to development of our own governance skillsets.