Along with a handful of other countries, Canada is crafting a bold new definition of what it means to profit from the sea — and who gets to do it.
The plan is not just to build profits from the sea, but also to spread them around. And that means inviting new talent on board: women, Indigenous people, people of colour and youth.
To help bring that new narrative alive, Canada set up the Ocean Supercluster in 2018.
It’s an industry-led, government-sponsored not-for-profit that brings together marine enterprises that might never otherwise have met. The goal is speeding up “blue economy” innovations and their commercialization. The federal government has pledged $153 million, to be matched by industry.
“We need to leverage diversity of thinking, experience and skills today, while also promoting opportunities for the future ocean workforce,” says Kendra MacDonald, chief executive of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster. Among the strategies: training, mentorship and explicitly targeting jobs to groups that haven’t had traditional access to the ocean economy.
The blue economy is also known as sustainable ocean growth, and it marks a significant departure from the practices that have taken hold in the marine sphere over the past several decades. One critique of the old system is that the wealth derived from marine industries — commercial fleet fishing, for example — accrues to the few. Meanwhile, the harm — such as overfishing — hurts the many.
The new blue economy will be green, as it were, safeguarding the ocean’s health and resilience, and making sure that we can keep relying on its riches for years to come.
A blueprint for this new way of seeing the ocean came out in December, launched by the Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The panel is unusual for a raft of reasons, not least because its 14 members are sitting world leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Together, these 14 govern nearly a third of the planet’s exclusive economic zones (the marine areas off a nation’s coast which the country oversees), as well as nearly 40 per cent of its coastlines. That means they have the power to change global ocean policy if they put their muscle behind it. It’s the start of a new narrative about what the ocean is for and what humanity’s responsibilities to it are.
Two innovative Supercluster collaborations foresee a bright future for an ocean workforce invested in the success of a blue ocean economy — the blue futures pathway project and the Indigenous career pivot project. Together they will support thousands of blue careers over time, MacDonald predicts.
The Blue Futures Pathway is the brainchild of Students on Ice (SOI) Foundation, a Gatineau, Que.-based organization offering educational shipboard expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Relying on the foundation’s two decades of work with Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, the Blue Futures Pathways program encourages young Canadians to consider careers in marine- and other water-related fields. That includes areas they might not have considered: cultural tourism, ocean research and technology.