Our North Coast Innovation Lab (NCIL) in Prince Rupert is bringing people together to try out new ways of creating lasting, positive change for both the economic and social systems of the community. The NCIL is focusing its first year on a small number of projects that already have some support or momentum in the community, but would benefit from new networks, additional human capacity, research, coordination and/or business thinking.

Project Co-ordinator Rabia Ahmed is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies with a focus on Planning at York University, and halfway through a four-month internship in Prince Rupert. Here she shares her work as part of the NCIL team, focusing on feasible ways to increase access to the local fish and marine economy in Prince Rupert.

Identifying the need

Prince Rupert has a strong connection to its fishing history and culture, and yet we’ve heard from the community that opportunities to access fresh, local seafood are hard to come by. My work so far has focused on understanding why this disparity exists, and what can be done to address it. Conversations with community members, alongside insights gleaned from research into local priorities and case studies from other coastal towns, are beginning to paint a picture of why access to local seafood is so challenging.

A significant barrier is, of course, access to the resource itself – fisheries are closely monitored to ensure conservation of fish, especially species deemed to be at risk. This means that there is perpetually more demand than supply for locally caught seafood. The high cost for consumers; the relatively limited retail opportunities for buying seafood; and a lack of access to information on what to look for, how to prepare and ways to cook seafood are all barriers holding people back from enjoying this wild, local protein.

Piloting ideas

One of ways we’re assessing the needs of the community is through open discussions with the public. We carried out a small pilot at Cow Bay Days (a local street festival) on July 7th, where Dolly’s Fish Market set up a small outdoor fish market. The aim was to gauge the community’s response to outdoor fish sales and engage with more people about the barriers and potential solutions they would like to see in Prince Rupert to increase their access to local seafood.

Over 50 people came to speak to us – giving us their insights and even suggesting new ideas that we hadn’t thought of! It was a day of thoughtful discussions and emerging and exciting possibilities.  We now have more grassroots data to continue to guide project planning.

Working differently

The solutions to this issue will be determined by the needs and input of the community – that’s what the NCIL model is all about. I’m really enjoying this process, particularly the openness with which we get to approach these projects. The goal of the Social Innovation Lab model is not to come at the issue with assumptions and project ideas already in mind, but rather to draw on local insights, multiple perspectives, and research to guide the process. What this means in practice is that there is a constant zooming in and out on potential ideas. There is constant refinement and reflection, and lots of pivoting as new information becomes available. I’m learning to be comfortable sitting with the chaos that can occur with this less-structured approach, and letting the ideas and solutions emerge organically.

Rabia was invited to talk about her research on CBC Radio One BC’s show ‘Daybreak North with Carolina De Ryk’ – listen here.