Mediaplanet spoke with the Honourable Bernadette Jordan — Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard — on protecting ecosystems and tackling climate change.
Canada is a vast country touching three oceans. What does this mean for people living and working by the changing tides?
I want Canadians to understand the incredible opportunities that lie within our oceans. The blue economy — the economy driven by sustainable, ocean resources — is worth more than $31 billion annually. That’s not just fishing — that’s marine transportation, ship building, tourism, and so much more.
The blue economy does not stop with our coastal communities, its benefits spin inland and lift up our rural communities.
Over 300,000 Canadians are currently employed by the blue economy and my goal is to keep that number growing.
That’s exactly why we are building a blue economy strategy, to ensure Canadians are positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. It really is an opportunity, because we have so much more to gain. Canada has the largest coastline in the world, and it’s time we have a sustainable approach to its development. We need to invest in this now and become real competitors on the world stage. It is imperative that Canadians can continue to make a living on, and from, the water.
Water is a vital part of the environment. What are you doing to protect the oceans’ ecosystems?
In 2020, Canadians rightfully expect the government to protect our oceans, rivers, and lakes.
I grew up on the coast — the ocean is my backyard — so I take this mandate very seriously. For coastal communities, the ocean is not just an economic driver — it’s our food, our recreation, our aesthetic. It’s woven into every aspect of our being.
I’m incredibly proud to be part of a government that turned a corner on how we treat the environment and that made it real priority. Canada had a goal to protect 10 percent of our oceans by 2020. Our government exceeded that target ahead of the deadline, reaching nearly 14 percent last August. Over 793,900 km2 of Canada’s marine and coastal areas — an area nearly twice the size of Newfoundland and Labrador — are now conserved, so their ecosystems can continue to thrive.
Now we have a new target — protecting 25 percent by 2025, working toward 30 percent by 2030 — and we are going to reach that. Bit by bit, in collaboration with provinces, territories, Indigenous peoples, and the will of Canadians.
There is a constant push-pull that happens when discussing industry and environmental protections. How do you balance that in regards to Canada’s oceans and waterways?
I don’t think it’s a question of balance anymore. You only have to balance things when they are in opposition to each other. The blue economy and the ocean’s ecosystems are dependent on one another for success. My job as Minister is to figure out how to best support this relationship so they can both thrive.
Recently, we introduced measures to protect the North Atlantic Right Whale. This included changes to fishing and marine transition practices. The United States is one of the biggest export markets for seafood, and they have been clear — they will not buy our product if we do not protect this endangered animal. These measures protect the environment and the economy at once. Even throughout this process, fish harvesters were fully engaged in the development of the new measures, and helped design practices that would keep these whales safe. Industry has become a real partner in our conservation goals, and we continue to work together to prevent further harm to these whales.
Bureaucracy can be full of red tape and slow to react. How does a department that is tasked with protecting our vast waterways confront this challenge?
Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and in between those we have thousands of rivers and lakes that the government has to protect. We could never do this alone, and I am repeatedly astounded by the rapid, effective coordination our officials can lead when duty calls.
One of the most impressive response was to the Big Bar landslide on the Fraser river in British Columbia. On June 23, 2019 DFO was notified of a possible landslide in a very remote area of the river. We immediately investigated and discovered a serious landslide had occurred, creating a five-metre waterfall blocking millions of salmon from their spawning grounds. This was all hands on deck. Within 5 days a Unified Command Centre consisting of the Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia, and First Nations was set up. Together, they worked around the clock, trapping and transporting fish, and re-establishing some natural passage for the salmon.
Work continues on this today, and we’re getting close to clearing the passage entirely.
Around the world, people are worried about climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment. What’s your perspective on that?
I know that many Canadians are concerned for our environment. I empathize with that, but I am also very hopeful for the future of our oceans.
One of the privileges of being the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is that I can see the progress on the ground. There are so many brilliant solutions at work right now that really are making a difference.
Off the coast of Newfoundland, lobster and codfish have declined largely because their habitats have been destroyed. In 2017, we started funding scientists at Memorial University who are creating concrete reefs that effectively serve as healthy habitats.
We just announced over $13 million dollars to fund 24 more projects like this one. We’re supporting the Haida Nation, as they work to restore marine areas damaged by past forestry practices, and the Kivalliq Inuit Association as they revitalize the Arctic char populations in the North, and The St. Mary’s River Association as they continue to help the Atlantic salmon recover in the St. Mary’s River.
There is no doubt that our oceans are facing real challenges. But if Canadians could witness the work on the ground, I genuinely believe we would all be optimists.