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Blue Economy Strategy Engagement Paper
Advancing sustainable and prosperous ocean sectors in Canada

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.


Advancing sustainable and prosperous ocean sectors in Canada

The ocean sectors operating in Canada today provide products and services ranging from food and transportation to energy and health. These sectors include:

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Together, these sectors generate value important to local economies, coastal regions, and the Canadian economy more broadly.

The following sections describe how each of these sectors operates and how they benefit Canadians. Each section also suggests ways that a blue economy strategy could help enable, support, and advance sustainable growth. As in previous sections, we have posed a number of questions to get your ideas and feedback, which will help guide the development of this Strategy.

Ocean-based energy

Canada’s extensive coastal waters and ocean spaces offer great opportunities for the development of ocean-based energy. From offshore oil and gas and offshore wind to tidal and hydro energy and the use of clean hydrogen, there is significant potential in our oceans to harness energy to heat homes, drive vehicles, and run businesses. However, future development of ocean-based energy projects must consider the impact that they may have on marine species and habitats, the rights of Indigenous peoples, and the surrounding environment to avoid undermining other economic and environmental objectives and reconciliation.

Canada has benefitted from the growth in the offshore oil and gas sector in recent decades. This sector has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the world average and can play an important role in Canada’s transition to greener energy.

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Offshore oil and gas projects under the Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Atlantic Accord have been the main driver of this sector. In 2016, the industry contributed approximately $4.9 billion in GDP and just over 15,000 well-paying jobs when spin-off effects are taken into account. Recently modernized federal regulations will allow more efficient approval of exploratory offshore drilling in the province, providing further support to the sector.

Offshore oil and gas companies invest heavily in innovation that may benefit other ocean sectors, such as greater safety in marine environments. As part of the transition to renewable energy sources, these innovations may also enable the sustainable growth of other ocean sectors, such as offshore wind energy and aquaculture.

The Government also helps other ocean-based energy industries succeed. For example, it recently announced funding to support four Nova Scotia tidal projects that will bring clean energy technologies to the Atlantic region and help Canada build a cleaner future.

Taking full advantage of oceans-based energy opportunities will require collaboration from all levels of government, as well as significant private sector investments, to encourage investor funding, demonstrate projects, and enable commercialization. By working together, Canada will be well-positioned to advance cutting-edge technology to enable a resilient ocean-based energy sector in a manner that will help us advance to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What types of renewable energy could be further developed in Canada’s oceans?

How can ocean-based energy projects be best supported, including to ensure that they are safely and sustainably developed?

What do Indigenous communities and businesses need to participate in these opportunities?

How has COVID-19 impacted Canada’s ocean-based energy sectors? What might be needed in the medium- and long-term to ensure economic recovery and growth?

How can organizations, such as the Ocean Supercluster, spur innovation to advance sustainable ocean-based energy?

Do you anticipate future challenges (e.g. regulatory, legal, public acceptance) for ocean-based energy that may need to be addressed by the blue economy strategy?

Marine transport, ports, and shipbuilding

Marine transport, ports, and shipbuilding are sectors of significant importance to Canada’s status as a trading nation and its economic potential. While continued growth of the world’s population will increase demand for the services provided by these sectors, the rate of growth will be largely determined by how the global economic recovery shapes trade and global shipping routes.

To seize long-term growth opportunities within this reality, industries understand the importance of thinking and acting strategically. They know that adopting automation and digitalization is central to remaining globally competitive and resilient, while also helping them reduce the carbon emissions of their business operations.

Marine transport is a significant driver of Canada’s blue economy, carrying $246.5 billion worth of international trade in 2019, which represents 20.6% of Canada’s total international trade. Marine transport could also start playing an increasingly important role in the Arctic Ocean. This would require robust environmental oversight and more capacity within governments, industries, and Indigenous and coastal communities to ensure that fragile ecosystems remain protected.

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The Government has been increasing its capacity in the Arctic region in recent years. Through the Oceans Protection Plan, for example, the Canadian Coast Guard extended its icebreaking season in the Arctic to ensure safe marine shipping and promote economic growth. The Canadian Coast Guard is also an active participant in the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, which is intended to foster safe, secure, and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic.

The marine transport sector generated 25,431 jobs in 2019, many of which are located in coastal regions and port communities across Canada. This number could grow as new shipping lanes are established and Arctic waters become more navigable. The growth of export-oriented sectors and land-based natural resources, such as forestry and petroleum production, may also increase traffic in the region.

At the same time, modern surveys, improved navigational services along key shipping routes, and new scientific discoveries and technologies could reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and its overall impact on ocean ecosystems.

A blue economy strategy could

Ports and harbours are essential enablers of marine transport and regional development, which allows Canadian businesses to fully participate in a globally integrated economy. Ports and harbours also play an integral role in supporting local and regional economic development and, increasingly, the testing and piloting of new ocean technologies and collecting data.

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Ports, harbours, and associated construction activities provide a significant number of jobs in coastal communities. In 2016, there were more than 5,000 construction jobs at Canada’s ports and harbours.

In addition to ports in major coastal and inland cities, Canada has many smaller harbours, including over a thousand small craft harbours. Both community-managed harbours and those operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada provide a hub for the economic activities in many remote and isolated Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities.

A blue economy strategy could

Shipbuilding in Canada not only consists of building and maintaining vessels to meet our unique domestic needs, it provides important support to other ocean industries and our network of coastal and Indigenous communities across the country.

Canada has a number of shipbuilding policies and support measures to ensure safety, sovereignty, and economic sustainability. Our longstanding “Buy in Canada” policy, for example, requires the federal government to procure, repair, and refit vessels in Canada. We also exclude shipbuilding and repair from our free trade agreements to support and protect this important ocean sector.

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In 2010, Canada launched the National Shipbuilding Strategy to renew our federal fleets and establish a sustainable industrial base on which to revitalize the sector. Through this initiative, partner shipyards are contractually required to make value proposition investments to benefit ocean industries in the areas of human resources development, industrial development, and technology. These investments are entirely directed by the shipyards at no cost to Canada and they amount to 0.5% of the value of their large vessel contracts. Moreover, through the application of the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy, contractors continue to build Canada’s capacity in the marine industry in the areas of supplier development, innovation, human resources development, and exports.

Since the National Shipbuilding Strategy was introduced, it is estimated that shipbuilding contracts issued have contributed over $17.04 billion ($1.55 billion annually) to our GDP and annually supported more than 15,500 jobs. And, as the strategy matures, its economic benefits to Canada will continue to grow.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How has COVID-19 impacted Canada’s marine transport, ports, and shipbuilding sectors? What might be needed in the medium- and long-term to ensure economic recovery and growth?

How can Canadian ocean-based businesses better leverage existing Government programs to further develop domestic capacity in shipbuilding and the marine transport sector overall?

What can be done to modernize and improve efficiency and environmental sustainability in marine transport, ports, and shipbuilding sectors?

Are there other challenges and opportunities for sustainable economic development in these three sectors? If so, how can they be addressed?

How can Indigenous communities and businesses benefit from procurement, employment, and training opportunities related to these sectors?


Aquaculture has been identified within Canada and internationally as a key agri-food sector that supports the world’s growing demand for animal protein. The sector contributes to food security and human health and it does so in a low-carbon production manner.

Aquaculture in Canada occurs in all provinces and territories, employing thousands of Canadians in coastal and Indigenous communities. In 2019, the sector generated 4,100 direct jobs and produced over 190,000 tonnes of product, which directly contributed over $300 million to our GDP.

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The industry has significant year-round employment growth potential in Canada, making it particularly well suited to revitalizing remote, rural and coastal communities, including Indigenous communities. The interest of Indigenous peoples in commercial aquaculture production also continues to grow from coast to coast to coast.

On August 17, 2020, the Government started engaging Canadians in a proposed federal Aquaculture Act to provide greater regulatory clarity for the industry and to foster national consistency, while respecting existing jurisdictions and regional differences. The Government has also been working with the Province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities in this region to create a responsible plan to transition open net-pen farming in coastal waters. This plan is being informed by consultations and engagements with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous partners, along with stakeholders, to ensure that it is environmentally responsible, economically feasible, and accounts for social considerations.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has highlighted the need for aquaculture to address the increased global demand for seafood. This will drive future sector growth, providing Canada with a unique opportunity to promote its resources, skills, and knowledge, and to be positioned as a global leader in sustainable, high-quality aquaculture production.

In Atlantic Canada, salmon aquaculture activities are expected to continue to expand over the next several years. The region’s globally recognized shellfish industry also remains strong with growth opportunities for the development of the local value chain.

Technology in aquaculture, such as automation, digitalization, and traceability, continues to evolve and is a key driver of sustainable development in the sector. There are also supply chain opportunities in upstream industries, such as boat and cage construction, transportation, genetics and pharmaceuticals, sensors, and unmanned operations.

Future growth and innovation in aquaculture will be shaped by new technologies, diversification of species, and enhanced environmental protections. This includes protections developed as a result of engagements with provinces and territories, Indigenous groups and other partners, as well as stakeholders. The sector will also need to work in collaboration with regulators and partners to address specific challenges, including cumbersome regulatory processes and uncoordinated federal and provincial requirements, the lack of specialized and highly skilled workers, and the need to build public trust and understanding of the industry.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What types of investments or actions could be made to advance and support innovation and sustainable growth in the sector?

How can aquaculture projects be best supported, including to ensure that they continue to be sustainably developed?

How can organizations, such as the Ocean Supercluster, spur innovation to advance sustainable aquaculture?

What types of actions are needed to foster more diverse economic participation in this sector, including the participation of Indigenous peoples?

How has COVID-19 impacted Canada’s aquaculture sector? What might be needed in the medium- and long-term to ensure economic recovery and growth?

Commercial fisheries

Commercial fishing is incredibly important to the local economies of Canada’s coastal regions and the well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Whether it be large- or small-scale operations, commercial fishing is often the single largest source of local jobs in these regions.

In 2016, the commercial fishing sector generated approximately $3 billion in GDP and provided over 26,000 jobs across Canada when its spin-off effects are taken into account. The total landed value of the wild capture fishery also increased by 123% between 2009 and 2017. This growth has been driven by consumer demand for high-value species in both Atlantic and Pacific fisheries (e.g. lobster, crab, other shellfish, and groundfish) and higher market prices.

Canada’s commercial fisheries sector is highly export-oriented, producing our largest single food commodity export by value and equivalent to about 80% of domestic production volume. Commercial fisheries and aquaculture operations also support fish and seafood processing, a key part of the value chain and another significant employer in Indigenous and other coastal communities. An estimated 20,400 individuals are directly employed in fish and seafood processing, with an additional 32,167 indirect and induced jobs stemming from the industry.

The long-term sustainability and success of the commercial fishing sector is directly linked to the health of fish stocks. Growing pressure on fish stocks and environmental impacts, such as climate change, pose current and future challenges for fisheries management. Moving forward, helping Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers to continue adopting sustainable practices and adapting to changes in fish stock health will be an important role for governments. Investing in science will also strengthen our ability to conserve, protect, and eventually rebuild fish stocks and ecosystems to ensure continued economic development and sustainability.

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The development of innovative approaches and technologies to help reduce the impacts of commercial fishing on the environment and fish stock health is another way to ensure continued sustainability and increased operational efficiencies. For example, ocean innovation sectors could work with commercial fishers to develop and adopt new sustainable gear technologies (e.g. rope-less traps) to help prevent gear loss, address ghost gear, and reduce marine mammal interactions. Developing domestic seafood traceability capacity for Canadian fish and seafood products would not only increase the value and marketability of our sustainable commercial fishery and aquaculture operations, it would also help our domestic industry meet international market access requirements.

The COVID–19 pandemic disrupted fish and seafood markets both in Canada and globally. Reduced demand, low market prices, port closures, inability to access cold storage facilities, and severely limited shipping and air freight services significantly reduced the capacity at which our industry operated for the first part of the fishing season. While production has subsequently resumed to near-normal levels, prices remain soft, and early volume losses have not been recouped. Government support has been essential to help the sector start to recover and the right mix of federal programming must be in place to support long-term resiliency and sustainability.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How can Canada’s approach to fisheries management continue to improve while enabling fishers to derive top value from their harvests?

Given the economic, social, and cultural importance of fisheries to Canada’s coastal regions, what actions would best position the industry to remain viable and sustainable over the long-term?

How can fishers be supported to transition to carbon-neutral business operations?

What do Indigenous communities and businesses need to increase their participation in this sector?

What can fishers do, or need, to better manage climate change impacts on fish stock health and species availability?

How can the sector or Government best support innovation to reduce by-catch, lessen impacts to marine mammals, and achieve other environmental objectives, while increasing the efficiency of commercial fisheries?

How can the sector or Government address the changing nature of the workforce, including an aging demographic, and best support the next generation of fishers?

What else might be needed in the medium- and long-term to ensure economic recovery from COVID-19 and growth?

Coastal and marine tourism

Oceans feature prominently in Canada’s tourism sector. The cruise industry, boating tours, recreational fishing, and diving all take place in ocean spaces. On-shore tourism in small coastal communities, and at historical sites and other notable cultural destinations, also depend on the ocean to prosper. Moreover, the ocean is an important element of local tourism brands across the east and west coasts, and the Indigenous tourism industry across Canada.

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Coastal and marine tourism offers a variety of employment opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and is an important contributor to economic growth. In 2016, marine tourism directly employed 32,700 Canadians and created $1.7 billion in value-added for our economy. Its full impact is much larger, however, as it supports an additional 19,800 jobs and $2.0 billion in value-added when spin-off effects are taken into account. Recreational fishing in particular is a popular leisure activity for Canadians and thousands of visitors each year. This activity benefits many local economies; especially, in remote areas.

The global pandemic has had a profound effect on the tourism sector with border closures, travel restrictions, and certain health and safety measures. A full recovery within the tourism sector is also expected to take longer to achieve than in other ocean sectors. The Government recently increased its Regional Relief and Recovery Fund to $2 billion, of which 25% is earmarked for tourism. Continued Government support of ocean- and marine-related tourism will help this sector stabilize, recover, and drive future economic growth and the creation of good jobs for Canadians.

Future growth within the coastal and marine tourism sector will also depend on Canada’s ability to protect and enrich its vast marine biodiversity, oceans, and coastal environments. This is especially important in the Arctic because this region lacks adequate infrastructure to support tourism growth and the associated safety and security challenges, such as search and rescue operations and responses to human-caused disasters. New ideas and opportunities for coastal and marine conservation, Indigenous-led initiatives, and coastal community capacity building could advance this sector in a more inclusive and enduring way over the longer term.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

As Canada’s economy begins to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, what challenges and opportunities for marine and coastal tourism should be prioritized?

What is needed to help advance and support sustainable coastal and marine tourism in Canada? How can we better align current federal tourism development and marketing to support ecologically sensitive coastal and marine tourism?

What further actions can be taken to safeguard marine mammal life, while developing the marine tourism sector?

How will climate change impact the operations of tourism sector businesses over the short and long terms?

What specific actions are required to foster more diverse economic participation in this sector?

What do Indigenous communities and businesses need to increase their participation in this sector?

Ocean technology

The ocean technology sector in Canada consists mainly of small companies which offer specialized products or services based on a core technology. While these companies are found across the country, there are important clusters around the ocean science and research organizations in Vancouver, Victoria, Rimouski, Halifax, Fredericton, and St. John’s. This enables industry–research collaborations to develop cutting-edge solutions to the most challenging issues facing our oceans, while building the education and credentials of future employees.

The ocean technology sector is a key enabler of global blue economy growth.

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Prior to COVID–19, this was emphasized in “The Ocean Economy to 2030” report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. As ocean industries recover from the pandemic, Canada could be well-positioned to seize opportunities to grow this sector.

Ocean technology companies in Canada are world-leading innovators in sensor technology, remote sensing (radar and acoustic), subsea vehicles/robotics, autonomous systems, harsh ocean environment technology, and marine simulation. To foster continued development of new technologies, the Government supports the industry-led Ocean Supercluster, which brings together diverse ocean industries to drive innovation as a means to generating growth.

While Canada is a leader in some ocean technology areas, the sector could still benefit from Government support to recover from COVID–19 impacts, improve overall global competitiveness, and ensure longer-term growth.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

What are the key short- and long-term challenges and opportunities for our ocean technology sector?

How can commercialization of ocean-related science and research be better supported?

Can technology transfer and innovation between ocean sectors be better supported to expand commercial opportunities for our ocean technology developers and innovators?

What do Indigenous communities and businesses need to increase their participation in this sector?

What might be needed in the medium- and long-term to support economic recovery and growth?

How can the Government support and enable a domestic market for ocean technology products and services that companies can leverage in the global marketplace?

How can ocean technology companies be more included in conservation and protection initiatives through the development of new solutions?

Future-oriented ocean industries

There are a number of future-oriented ocean industries with significant economic potential, such as marine biotechnology, offshore aquaculture, and seabed mining. The development of these industries is often based on, and enabled by, cutting-edge science and new technologies.

A blue economy strategy could help Canada capitalize on the economic opportunities presented by future-oriented ocean industries, while integrating measures to maintain ocean health and protect ocean ecosystems. We are especially well-positioned to seize the economic growth opportunities presented by marine biotechnology due to our existing expertise and abundant marine resources.

While there is no standard definition, in general, marine biotechnology produces knowledge, goods, and services from the genetic resources found in marine organisms that may be applied in other industries. Three examples include:

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Marine biotechnology is a growing sector in Quebec, British Columbia, and Prince Edward Island. More than 20 companies in Quebec currently receive support from the Marine Biotechnology Research Centre, which was created by the Association du cancer de l’Est du Québec and the Université du Québec à Rimouski in 2004. Genome British Columbia joined an international collaboration to develop genomic resources for salmonids that are now being used to examine responses to environmental factors, pathogens, and pollutants.

In the future, Canada could use marine biotechnology to improve the quality of our fish and seafood exports, develop valuable pharmaceutical products, and further bioremediation efforts. However, we must first address the challenges of this relatively new sector. This includes establishing a common definition of the sector and regulatory structures to support it, de-risking the development of new groundbreaking technologies, and helping industries gain access to financing.

A blue economy strategy could

Discussion questions

How do current regulatory structures hinder the growth of ‘future-oriented’ ocean sectors?

What tools can be put in place to ensure this sector can leverage opportunities for growth domestically and abroad?

Are there particular skills and labour challenges facing emerging ocean sectors?

What do Indigenous communities and businesses need to increase their participation in this sector?

What types of support could help to ensure the sustainable growth of these sectors, such as the transfer of applicable skills and technology from current to future ocean industries?

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