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16th Elisabeth Mann Borgese Ocean Lecture on Canada's Oceans and Coasts: Pathways to Sustainability in a Sea of Change with Keynote speaker Rashid Sumaila

By Poppy Keogh

On May 19 2020, the International Ocean Institute hosted the 16th Annual Elisabeth Mann Borgese Ocean Lecture at Dalhousie University. The lecture was opened by Mr Michael Butler, the director of IOI-Canada and a forward by Dr Tirza Meyer who recently published her book on Elisabeth Mann Borgese and the Law of the Sea. She gave us a background on the history and work of Elisabeth Mann Borgese to set the tone for the upcoming lecture and discussions. She reminded us of the roles the Law of the Sea Convention and the International Seabed Authority played in the story of ocean and the Ocean Order. This In Focus piece will summarize and reflect on this lecture.

Dr Rashid Sumaila is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Ocean and Fisheries Economics at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. His book, Infinity Fish discusses what role fish play in the world and how they cannot truly be quantified by economic standards as they are invaluable, and an infinite resource if managed sustainably. He solidifies his point that the ocean environment is intrinsically connected to humans and the economy through the example of fish stocks and fishing communities. Rashid’s work focuses on the intersections of disciplines by choosing topics that are policy relevant and not just theoretical.

One of his current focusses is on estimating the multiple benefits that would be obtained globally by rebuilding fish stocks and setting up marine reserves, including the concept of the ‘High Seas’ as a large marine reserve or a ‘fish bank’ for the world. Rashid spoke of his efforts to mobilize knowledge with participatory research and knowledge sharing. These research strategies are necessary if we are to manage the oceans as one ocean. This specifically points to the High Seas as important areas to govern as currently only eight to ten countries are benefitting from the resources extracted from the High Seas. Rashid then turned to the idea of creating a High Seas regeneration zone which could transform these areas into a fish bank for the world. Rashid concluded his lecture with a statement on how designing policies and taking actions with positive feedback loops will help to create robust ocean systems that can remain healthy and provide food for the world.

The first discussant, Dr Megan Bailey, is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance with the Marine Affairs program as Dalhousie University. Megan pointed out the commonality in a desire to contribute to conservation.

“Conserving an ocean full of fish, not as protected entities but by preserving the fish-human interaction. Managing fish is about managing people’s relationships with the ocean” – Dr Megan Bailey.

She reminded us that more data does not mean better management and highlighted FishBase as an example of this and how studies have been done to determine whether more data means better management decisions. Megan also made a point of asking the question as to why we do not think of local fish to the same extent as we think of local fruit and vegetables. Fresh, locally grown produce is relatively accessible through local markets and stores, yet fresh fish is harder to access. This is telling of the sustainable food systems we have in Atlantic Canada and how it may affect food security in the region.

Dr Robert Rangeley, the second discussant on the panel, is Director of Ocean Science at Oceana, Canada. Oceana is an international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Robert reminded us of the cod moratorium in Newfoundland and Labrador and how it’s a harrowing example of poor management systems leading to mass job loss and heightened food insecurity in rural communities. This is also an example of the intricacies of the human-ocean interaction, which can be fragile if not managed correctly and with little attention on the feedback loop.

The final discussant, Dr. Nancy Shackell, is a Research Scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. Nancy speaks of how her and her team take research papers and use them to create targets, which can be implemented into government policies to aid in management. She indicated how within DFO things may not move fast enough to implement new management policies to match the pace that the climate is changing. She mentions how a big issue with the changing climate and shifting ocean temperatures, causing mass species migration towards the poles and fish are “crossing ocean borders”. This has led DFO to factor in new species into management plans that are now interacting with the coastal ecosystems of Canada.

The lecture and discussions highlighted that understanding the intrinsic links between humans and the ocean is vital for creating effective pathways to sustainably manage the oceans. Insights from the speaker and the panelists offer diverse perspectives as to which elements should have more focus, with climate change being at the forefront and how this will interact and be affected by the future governing strategies for the High Seas.

Watch recording of the full lecture on YouTube:


Poppy is a research assistant for the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I. She recently completed her MSc in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her research focused on the benthic ecology of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, with emphasis on deep-sea corals and sponges, and how the results from her thesis can contribute to the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the North Atlantic. Poppy is particularly interested in the decision-making processes behind the establishment of MPAs and their long-term viability. She is passionate about all things science communication.

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