Challenges and opportunities for equity and justice in Canada's Blue Economy - Part I

By: Rylan J. Command, OFI Module I

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 I: Dr. Gerald Singh discussed the concept, ‘Blue Squeeze’, that captures how marginalized groups are restricted and excluded by a combination of economic development and environmental conservation initiatives. In small-scale fisheries, for example, the combination of Individual Transferrable Quotas (ITQs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) simultaneously restrict access to markets and fishing grounds, while purporting to promote sustainable ocean development. Dr. Singh argued for a narrative approach to understand how small-scale fishers perceive economic, social, and conservation initiatives like ITQs and MPAs, and how they feel they have been, are being, and will be affected by these initiatives. Dr. María Andrée López Gómez discussed an occupational health and safety (OHS) perspective for a just, equitable, and safer Blue Economy. Dr. López Gómez argued that OHS for small-scale fisheries must not be left out of the equation as Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy prioritizes commercial fisheries, aquaculture, and marine shipping. She described how co-developed OHS strategies led by harvesters can create safer working conditions that are scalable and do not leave anyone out. In other words, she remarked that decision-makers cannot afford to trade social inclusion, equity, and environmental conservation for economic growth. Dr. López Gómez also argued for a Blue Recovery framework, facilitated through participatory and collaborative approaches, for OHS, active surveillance, and a deeper diver into the hierarchy of controls that ensure workers are supported and safe. Dr. Leah Fusco discussed how “Blue Growth” and “transitions” narratives are co-opted by governments and corporations to justify continuation of destructive practices in the name of economic growth. She presented NL oil as a case study. Dr. Fusco argued that the “Integrated Blue Economy” approach allows NL to legitimize the business-as-usual approach to oil development under the guise of energy transition. She highlighted the contradiction between Canada’s commitments to net zero green-house gas emissions by 2050 and NL’s Advance 2030 program intended to double oil production in the province by 2030. Dr. Fusco further argued that injustices and inequities that result from oil production extend beyond NL and Canada to the global supply chain. For instance, climate effects of oil production manifest far from the production site and are often ignored in regional decision making. Dr. Fusco argued that Canada must plan to transition away from oil, not just toward cleaner oil, rejecting the narrative presented by NL that “clean” oil is an essential part of the “global energy transition”. Dr. Megan Bailey highlighted opportunities for Canada’s Blue Economy to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals through the lens of food sovereignty. Dr. Bailey argued for adopting a “seafood sovereignty” lens that prioritizes food for people, works with nature, and localizes food systems. Dr. Bailey argued that for small-scale fisheries, priorities should include fish for food and nutritional content, community-led fisheries, and transparency in decision-making to empower fishers and reduce dependence on remote and unaccountable corporations. Dr. Bailey argued Canada should lean on its past commitments, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the SSF Guidelines, to guide its Blue Economy Strategy. A key takeaway from these presentations is the importance of understanding equity and justice issues in Canada’s Blue Economy from the perspective of people most acutely affected by proposed sustainable development strategies. During the discussions it became clear that both economic (i.e. oil development) and environmental (i.e. Marine Protected Areas) initiatives often require moving into new spaces, but questions like “who’s spaces are these?” and “how are those people involved in decision-making?” are often missing from the discourse. Localizing and co-developing solutions to ocean governance challenges such as marine conservation initiatives, food distribution, and marine safety protocols has the potential to ensure desirable, equitable, and just outcomes for marginalized coastal communities in Canada’s Blue Economy. Continue reading in Part II!


Rylan J. Command is a M.Sc. student in the 4D Oceans Lab at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a Research Assistant with the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I. His thesis research focuses on temporal trends in the abundance, behaviour, biodiversity, and distribution of seafloor megafauna in response to climate anomalies. He is particularly interested in how climate change is affecting fisheries and food systems, the ways in which humans use and distribute marine resources globally, and the policies, principles, and decision-making processes underpinning food systems.