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Blue Economy Strategy Engagement Paper
Positioning Canada’s blue economy for growth and success

Introduction Focusing on growth and prosperity Positioning Canada Sustainable and Prosperous Ocean Sectors Big questions

Closed engagement: this engagement ran from February 8 to June 15, 2021.


Positioning Canada’s blue economy for growth and success

Canada’s blue economy is complex. It is made up of different sectors and competing interests, all of which are impacted by shifting market dynamics. The relationship between ocean sectors, various levels of government, evolving market access requirements, and international agreements and commitments adds further complexity.

To position Canada’s ocean sectors for growth and success, a number of cross-cutting issues must be considered:

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This underscores Canada’s need for a single, comprehensive strategy to guide our investments and policies toward a single, clear goal of a strong, sustainable blue economy.

This part of the engagement paper examines these seven issues in detail, identifying relevant challenges and suggesting potential ways that a blue economy strategy could be used to address these challenges. We encourage you to consider the discussion questions posed at the end of each section.

Natural environment: enhancing environmental sustainability of the ocean and climate change resilience of coastal areas

Canada’s blue economy and its future growth depend on the sustainable use and management of our ocean resources. A healthy ocean generates economic and social benefits. At the same time, it performs vital functions such as carbon sequestration and climate regulation.

The health of the world’s oceans is under pressure as a result of overexploitation, pollution, and climate change. The United Nations proclaimed 2021-2030 as a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to support global efforts to reverse the decline in ocean health and create improved conditions for sustainable development in the ocean.

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Climate change, in particular, significantly impacts the global ocean economy and the resilience of coastal areas worldwide. Canada’s blue economy and Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities are not immune to these impacts. Capture fisheries, aquaculture, and coastal tourism are also vulnerable.

The Government has taken important steps to keep Canada’s oceans healthy and to help ocean industries adapt to the impacts of climate change. The $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan, the modernized Fisheries Act, new marine protected areas, and our commitment to protect 25% of our oceans by 2025 while working towards 30% by 2030, are a few such examples. The Government is also working closely with Indigenous communities on all three coasts to support coastal habitat restoration, protect marine environments, and improve marine safety. Additional steps, such as marine spatial planning activities will also help us balance human activities and conservation efforts in our ocean spaces.

In addition, the Government has been developing ocean accounts to help us better understand the total value that oceans bring to our society. Ocean accounts will contain ocean-related environmental, social, and economic data in a comprehensive way so we can determine whether investments in our oceans are building ocean wealth for future generations.

These domestic actions are helping Canada meet its international commitments to ocean health, including the Charlevoix blueprint for healthy oceans, seas and resilient coastal communities, the Ocean Plastics Charter, and Sustainable Development Goals. We are also demonstrating leadership regarding the sustainable use of marine resources, including in regional fisheries management organizations discussions on the importance of sustainable high seas fishing.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What are some effective ways to enhance environmental sustainability in the oceans?

Are there opportunities for the Government to work with Indigenous communities and organizations, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations to support ocean health and climate change adaptation?

What actions can be initiated to enhance coastal resilience and what roles could industry partners play in these efforts?

What types of information and services are needed to support decision-making and adaptation?

How could the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development be used to inform the development of the blue economy strategy?

Innovation: reducing barriers to innovation and advancing business modernization

Ocean innovation is an important driver of economic growth and supports numerous well-paying jobs across Canada. Recent scientific discoveries and the development of advanced technologies are increasing efficiencies and productivity across ocean sectors. At the same time, innovations are changing the business models of ocean industries to foster sustainable use of resources.

Science and technology innovations play a key role in growing our blue economy. Well-aligned and strategic private and public investments in innovation can help Canada become a global leader in ocean research and technology development. Supporting a business environment that enables ocean start-ups to successfully develop, test, and commercialize their innovations, can also advance our blue economy growth and sustainability objectives.

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The Government has launched several programs to support ocean innovation in recent years. This includes Canada's fisheries funds, which help ocean companies modernize their operations to be more competitive and productive. We also support the work of the Ocean Supercluster and other ocean innovation hubs across Canada.

The Government will continue to seek ways to support ocean innovation; especially, tools and advancements that may be used across multiple ocean industries or may extend commercial potential and reach. This includes by strengthening the link between academia, industry players from start-ups to small- and medium-sized enterprises, and Indigenous partners with ‘anchor’ companies, so there is a better understanding of industry needs and technologies.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How can the commercialization of ocean innovation be better supported in Canada?

How can stronger co-operation between anchor companies and ocean innovators be supported?

What would help Indigenous communities and businesses increase their participation in ocean innovation?

Where are Canada’s main strengths in ocean innovation and how can Government programming leverage these strengths to advance ocean sector growth and sustainability?

How can new discoveries in ocean science and new achievements in technology development at Canadian post-secondary institutions be better publicized to encourage their commercialization?

Financing: de-risking investments and improving access to private sector financing

Blue financing refers to private and public investments in projects that help restore and protect the ocean environment, while also supporting sustainable economic activities in the ocean. Its intent is to finance (or support by improving insurance availability) ocean-based projects that are grounded in sustainability and growth.

Blue financing can guide targeted government investments in ocean sectors. It can also provide certainty and clarity to the financial industry to increase the level of investments in blue economy opportunities.

Blue financing investments could support a wide range of ocean projects and initiatives in Canada, such as sustainable aquaculture and regenerative ocean farming, marine biotechnology, alternative propulsion systems, eco-tourism, de-carbonization of marine shipping, ocean ecosystem restoration, and carbon sequestration (e.g. blue carbon). This would contribute to the development of our sustainable blue economy, and help us fulfill international commitments, such as to the United Nations “Life Below Water” Sustainable Development Goal.

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De-risking investments and attracting additional private sector capital under a blue financing model may serve to advance ocean-related activities. However, adoption of a transparent regulatory and reporting framework for financial institutions and ocean-based businesses to guide and facilitate future private sector investments would first be required.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How can Canada’s recent work on green finance be leveraged to advance blue finance?

How can Canada use its robust financial sector to support blue economy projects and the development and advancement of cutting-edge technologies?

What activities could be taken in Canada to help de-risk private sector investments in innovative, sustainability, and conservation-related ocean projects, including in Indigenous communities?

Science and data: advancing ocean observation and data collection and supporting world-leading scientific research

Data collected through sustained ocean observations, measurements, and forecasts enable the majority of our ocean economic activities to occur. Data and other collected information also help us understand the impacts of economic practices. Insights offered by data inform legislation to regulate ocean use and protect the ocean environment. It also leads to more efficient and safer ocean-based operations.

Canada has become a leader in ocean observation with extensive research strengths both in government and in university programs.

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For example, the Canadian Integrated Ocean Observing System, SmartAtlantic, Ocean Networks Canada, and the RADARSAT Constellation Mission collect, analyze, and manage ocean data to support evidence-based decision-making on ocean management, disaster mitigation, fisheries resources, and environmental protection. They also provide critical data to industry for safer and more efficient operations.

Additionally, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Canadian Healthy Oceans Network is exploring the ecosystem characteristics that define the capacity of our oceans to recover or respond to management strategies, such as conservation networks, spatial closures, and restoration. This research also aims to understand and quantify how key stressors, including cumulative impacts in high-use environments, alter marine biodiversity and ecosystem functions.

There is still room for growth and development in ocean observation, data collection, and ocean modelling. With Canada’s current expertise, for example, there is an opportunity to globally lead the development of new technologies, including space-based technologies, for advanced tracking and monitoring of ocean spaces. We could also provide clarity, certainty, and facilitate discussion around jurisdiction, administrative authority, and natural resources. This includes by mapping and interpreting to modern standards the more than 90% of Canada’s seabed and subsurface to fill the gaps in knowledge of resource potential and risks to development.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How can the Government make ocean observation and mapping more accessible to Canadians? How could enhanced access to data support innovation, economic growth, and cutting-edge scientific research?

What data and knowledge gaps need to be filled to support better ocean-related decision-making?

What ocean observation services and products are required to support decision-making?

How can Canada enhance its fractured data infrastructure to obtain and share data across all three oceans?

ow can we make this infrastructure more sustainable and accessible?

How can the private sector, Indigenous groups, and not-for-profit organizations be more involved in advancing ocean observation and data collection?

Market access: improving access to foreign markets and attracting new foreign direct investments

Trade and investment are key drivers of Canada’s economy. Current and future growth and prosperity in the blue economy will depend on open world markets and stable, predictable, and transparent trading and investment environments.

The Government works multilaterally and bilaterally with numerous countries to promote and defend Canadian interests, including by promoting trade and ensuring market access for our goods and services. Provinces and territories also support businesses through their role in market and branding development and foreign direct investment attraction.

Canada uses a number of programs and tools to help businesses grow and export their goods and services, including foreign investor services. Recent initiatives and investments have built on the success of these programs and tools to facilitate a stronger rate of export growth and attract more foreign direct investments.

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This includes supports to help Canadian companies diversify their exports to take advantage of trade agreements, such as the Canada–European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

A blue economy strategy would provide a backdrop on which the Government could work to boost ocean sector export growth and investment attraction, including investments in ‘green’ technologies and practices. Pre-pandemic, Canada’s overall performance in attracting foreign direct investment was very strong and we have experienced lower declines of this investment at 32% compared to global total of 49%.

Containment measures to restrict the spread of COVID–19 have affected every aspect of international trade. At the end of September 2020, year-to-date imports and exports were lower by 13 and 14%, respectively, compared to the same period in 2019Footnote 5. Escalated airfreight transportation rates and capacity shortages are encouraging some shippers to pursue sea freight or to split supply chain shipments between ocean and air palletsFootnote 6. This situation also indicates that investments in marine transport may be essential to support strong trade routes.

As the economy recovers from COVID–19, it will be important for Canada to attract foreign direct investments, revitalize traditional markets, seek new markets, and expand domestic market presence.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What regulatory and/or legislative barriers dissuade private sector investments in or by Canada’s ocean industries, including direct foreign investments?

What might be needed to improve access to, and competitiveness within, new and existing markets?

How can a better investment climate be created to attract new ocean-related companies to Canada and increase domestic private sector investments?

Business environment: enhancing the long-term resilience and competitiveness of businesses

Business resilience and competitiveness are essential to enable a strong economy that creates good-paying jobs across the country. The Government can support our ocean companies by developing a business environment that fosters sustainable business operations, enhances business resilience, and drives competitiveness. We are already investing in key infrastructure, such as high-speed Internet in coastal and rural areas, and helping businesses modernize their operations by adopting advanced technologies.

The pandemic has tested the resilience of our ocean industries. Some companies have shown great adaptability in overcoming challenges, including by pivoting their operations to meet demand for new products and services. Still, the pandemic has highlighted areas where Canada needs to enhance its resilience and competiveness. This includes in areas, such as infrastructure (e.g. ports and small craft harbours), and improved access to lending and equity capital.

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The long-term resilience and competitiveness of our ocean companies will also be influenced by trends that affect the world-wide economy. A growing global population, potential disruption in global supply chains, innovation, climate change, and an emphasis on environmental sustainability are likely to have a profound impact on future business models and global markets.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What assistance could help ocean sectors endure external shocks and recover more quickly from their impacts?

What barriers are preventing the adoption of advanced technology? What would help the sector be better able to adopt this technology?

What does resilience mean for your sector? What does competitiveness look like for your sector in the long-term? What is needed to help realize these goals?

Regulatory environment: establishing robust and agile frameworks to support sustainable ocean economic growth

Canada’s ocean companies need a competitive and predictable operating environment to be able to thrive, innovate, and grow. Regulatory systems must be agile, transparent, and responsive to the needs of business and the natural environment. Such frameworks must also be adaptable to technological developments.

Today’s ocean industries are subject to ocean management planning and a number of industry-specific regulatory frameworks. These are intended to enable development, innovation, and long-term investor confidence, while ensuring environmental protection.

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For example, Canada modernized its Fisheries Act to provide fishers with more clarity about their operating environment while enhancing fish and fish habitat ecosystem protections. We are also engaging Canadians on the development of a new Aquaculture Act to provide industry greater operating clarity, enhance environmental protections, and help advance sustainable growth.

Strategic planning within our ocean spaces can work hand-in-hand with regulatory frameworks to bolster investments in Canada’s ocean sectors. Marine spatial planning, for example, is an internationally recognized tool to support decision-making for sustainable use. Specifically, marine spatial planning brings together relevant decision-making authorities to collaboratively design an integrated plan that will guide the use and management of marine spaces in order to achieve a full range of ecological, economic, and social objectives.

Marine spatial plans are not intended to replace existing industry-specific regulatory frameworks. Rather, they identify areas for conservation and zones suitable for industrial activities, including at varying times. Marine spatial plans, and the governance mechanisms and data used to support their development, can also be used to inform and align decisions related to future major projects in these areas.

Canada’s marine spatial planning efforts in the Pacific North Coast, Bay of Fundy–Scotian Shelf, Newfoundland–Labrador Shelves, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence are being designed with these goals in mind.


A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How do regulation or other barriers impede business growth in Canada’s ocean spaces?

How can regulatory frameworks be aligned with integrated oceans management and/or marine spatial planning efforts? Are there best practices, both at home and abroad, that could be leveraged to guide Canada’s approach?

How can the precautionary principle guide the development of regulations for future-orientated ocean industries?

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