Rashid Sumaila: Navigating pathways to a sustainable ocean

By Nova Almine and Lillian M. Saul, Graduate student researchers, OFI Module I

“Economists know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. If this is true: what is the value of fish?” - Dr. Rashid Sumaila

Dr. Rashid Sumaila is a professor of fisheries and oceans at the University of British Columbia, British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Sumaila is not only an academic, but a cultural and social pathfinder in matters of ocean sustainability. He is a powerful speaker who addresses a multitude of issues in fisheries, well-being, sustainability, and social and food justice. He has dedicated his most recent publication, a book called “Infinity Fish: Economics and the Future of Fish and Fisheries” to all the people working to make the world a more sustainable place. This book describes how fisheries can be economically valued through a holistic perspective. Fish are not only the lifeline for present and future generations living in coastal and inland communities, but also provide food for other fish and marine birds and mammals. They have value throughout the human world, and outside of the human world. Ultimately, fish are invaluable. In a system where everything has a price, nothing is truly valued. Dr. Sumaila, one step at a time, is trying to change this system to see value for what it truly is, to see fish for what they are truly worth. His outside-the-box-thinking, courage, and hopefulness might be the only path of insight for how this planet can support our grandchildren’s children and the wild creatures infinitely interconnected.

More broadly, Dr. Sumaila is an interdisciplinary economics researcher, engaging in fields relevant for solving problems in fisheries. His work is referred to as Interdisciplinary Ocean and Fisheries Economics (IOFE), which has in its core the ‘environment-economy’ connections. Dr. Sumaila’s work is thus situated at the intersections of disciplines, where he works for the people. The diversity in ideas of IOFE approaches and perspectives promotes divergent thinking as a way to approach problem-learning and solving in fisheries. His research is also transdisciplinary, which means integrating multiple perspectives due to the idea that no one has all the answers. Transdisciplinary research takes a positive and hopeful approach, rather than critical, and is highly necessary to finding a path forward. Transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research methods have the capacity to generate policy-relevant contributions and not just theoretical results. Maintaining space for open-mindedness within the research community recognizes that issues are not one sided, but multifaceted. These perspectives account for different disciplines, such as the social and natural science perspectives, as well as fundamentally varying views of the world which understand issues as driven by a divergent set of sometimes conflicting and messy factors.

Finally, Dr. Sumaila emphasizes the importance of communicating research to the general public. Research becomes, in this regard, a process of social awakening. Economics can contribute to ensuring the sustainability of coastal and ocean resources for the benefit of current and future generations. But for a long time, economics has not taken into account the many complex factors at play in fisheries. Economists need more than just price to quantify the value of fish for human beings and the earth. In turn, the economics of fisheries becomes a question of perspective and value. If laws and policies recognize the social, cultural and ecological value of the fisheries, why are economists only looking at price? As problems in ocean and coastal fisheries become increasingly complex, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches are a good way to start in finding appropriate solutions to sustaining this sector.

Dr. Sumaila's recent presentation at the OFI SSH People and the Ocean Speaker Series is available here.


Lillian Saul is a researcher at Memorial University studying fisheries governance in Newfoundland and Labrador with a focus on inshore and small-boat fisheries. Her research explores opportunities and challenges to informing policymaking in this province with relevant principles, as outlined by the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries. She is also an active commercial fishing person! Lillian would be satisfied spending the rest of her days fishing on the water and contributing to learning about and solving complex problems in fisheries on shore. Ultimately, she hopes her work can celebrate the invaluable knowledge and vitality of fishing communities in Atlantic Canada and beyond.


Nova Almine is a graduate student researcher at Memorial University studying small-scale fisheries focusing on the value chain of anchovy fisheries in Thailand. Her work explores the issues and concerns affecting the small-scale anchovy fisheries and within the value chain. Before coming to Newfoundland, she enjoyed Scuba diving while maintaining a coral garden back in the Philippines to help improve local fish stocks and healthy oceans. She hopes that her work will bring light to the importance of small-scale anchovy fisheries through their contributions to food security and livelihoods, especially in developing countries.