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Gillnet Fishing on the North Coast of BC

Testimony: Include social, local economic, and cultural outcomes in fisheries management

Gillnet Fishing on the North Coast of BC

On May 12, 2022, Tasha Sutcliffe, our Senior Policy Advisor for Community Fisheries shared a compelling testimony with the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) on the value of including social sciences in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ decision-making process. Read her rational on why federal regulators need to focus on social, local economic, and cultural outcomes along with conservation in fisheries management.

Tasha Sutcliffe, Senior Policy Advisor, Community Fisheries, Ecotrust Canada
Tasha Sutcliffe, Senior Policy Advisor, Community Fisheries, Ecotrust Canada

WATCH Tasha Sutcliffe’s testimony.

Thank you for having me here today.

For those who don’t know me, I am currently an independent contractor and am here in one of my roles as senior policy advisor for fisheries with Ecotrust Canada.

I have spent 25 years looking at ways to realize fair, sustainable, and prosperous fisheries. I believe that fisheries, as a renewable resource, can be well managed for environmental, social, cultural, AND economic objectives.

Since we are here on the subject of science, I should start by saying that though I have engaged in many scientific pursuits, I am not a scientist, and I have a deep respect for those who are.

Today, I am an outlier in that I am focusing on the role of social science in fisheries management, and the issue with the lack of focus and capacity on this.

My area of work is on the West Coast of BC. Many challenges face Pacific region fisheries — climate change, competition for space and species, species at risk, market shifts, you name it. Science is instrumental for identifying, monitoring, and resolving issues that arise from this complexity. But how do we prioritize scientific activities, build investment in these priorities, and leverage our findings? We first must have a policy framework that includes clear objectives across the full spectrum of societal priorities, and we must have a framework for science that supports these.

The natural sciences are of course a huge part of this, but practiced in isolation, it is not enough to get us where we want to go. Just like focusing our economists solely on big E economic metrics like GDP will not get us to where we want to go.

So where do we want to go? What are we measuring success against? For the most part existing language is around economic prosperity and conservation — but for whom? At what geographic scale? At what timescale? Do we have consistent objectives around social and cultural outcomes, and community well-being, and health? I would argue that we could do much better at defining this, especially in the Pacific region where we are lacking in a comprehensive policy framework that identifies clear objectives, and little to no direction given on social, local economic, and cultural outcomes.

We do have a number of resources which identify key considerations for fisheries in Canada, and many of them do touch on their socio-economic and cultural importance.

In this committee’s 2019 study on the subject of West Coast fisheries, it was pointed out that:

  • key properties of a sustainable fishery include the environmental, economic, and social aspects of sustainable development, and
  • That there is a need for, explicit socio-economic objectives in policies, and
  • This study also recommended that DFO collect socio-economic data for use in development of regulations

Most recently, in the report titled “What we Heard” out of the engagement process for the Blue Economy strategy, social equity, cultural, and local economic considerations where raised many times as a priority, including in fisheries.

The latest Fisheries Act itself states that the Minister may consider, among other things, social, economic, and cultural factors in the management of fisheries. But how is the Minister to consider socio-economic impacts and outcomes, if we have no science to base those considerations on?

There needs to be a way to provide both natural and social science and intersect these findings, not compartmentalize them. It just so happens we do have a start to this, as the Canadian Fisheries Research Network developed one! This 50-person team’s six years of research were published in two major peer reviewed publications. The network recognized four pillars of sustainability: ecological, economic, social/cultural and institutional or governance, and developed a ‘framework’ that articulates the scope and candidate objectives and values of these four pillars.

They proposed that this framework would be useful as a checklist of objectives in planning, as a framework for evaluation, and as a basis for scenario comparison and a template for comprehensive advice. This sounds like a good start!

Let me be clear, this is not an argument meant to alter scientific priorities to diminish necessary outcomes around conservation, quite the contrary. It is to ensure that where decision making has the potential to achieve conservation outcomes AND maximize societal benefits, this is enabled. The absence of this focus results in unnecessarily harmful policy, which can take decades to unravel.

Take the integrated groundfish initiative for example. This has been lauded as a good example for fisheries management that has succeeded in addressing conservation issues, yet for years fish harvesters have been raising their hands saying that the system is increasingly limiting their ability to remain viable and independent in their operations. This is not because it was a necessary trade off to meet the conservation goals, it is because there was never a serious look at how to design the system to also achieve the maximum social and community benefit. With a few controls built in to protect social and local economic objectives, we could have had the same conservation outcomes while simultaneously ensuring that those on deck of the boat and coastal communities retained the benefit of this now more sustainable system. Instead, we have a fishery that local fish harvesters can’t afford to buy into, and maximizes profits for non-active operators, processors, and Canadian and foreign investors. Danielle Edwards provides a detailed analysis of this policy failure in her paper “Addressing Questions on the Social and Economic Outcomes of an Individual Transferable Quota Fishery

And there is the example of licensing policy outcomes in the sea cucumber fishery. In this lucrative fishery the lion’s share of landed value is not going to the harvesters, but rather is being lost to the (in many cases non-local) licence owners or fish companies leasing the licence, who land and sell the product and then pay the fish harvester a fraction of the fair landed price. Further, this species can provide high value in processing jobs and wholesale margins and yet this is also being exported.

Science can investigate issues such as this, compare scenarios around solutions for decision making that achieve environmental goals and maximize societal benefit.

We are in precarious times. We require new ways of doing business, and innovation in our economic system that ensures we are contributing to a better quality of life for current and future generations, and promoting resilience in the natural and social systems we rely on. This is ever challenging in the face of disastrous events such as pandemics and climate change impacts, which can bring our current system to its knees.

We must be able to respond quickly and adapt in times of crisis. It is more crucial than ever to manage our renewable resources to this end. This requires a comprehensive multi-pillared approach to science and informed decision making, but will result in a much stronger foundation on which to move forward in sustainable development

To end on a positive note. DFO is moving to look at addressing recommendation #5 in the Standing Committee on Fisheries Report on West Coast Fisheries around collection of socio-economic data. It does seem that there is increasing acknowledgment that this is a gap and is instrumental for decision making that will result in fulfilling the Department’s mandate. I can only hope that the necessary attention gets paid to this as well as the investment to support the systemic change needed.

By Tasha Sutcliffe, Senior Policy Advisor, Ecotrust Canada

[May 12, 2022]