Achieving Equity in Canada's Blue Economy: Ensuring no one gets left behind in Canada's blue economy strategy

To mark World Ocean’s Day, BCCIC’s all-youth UN Ocean Conference Delegation has authored a special report outlining how to achieve equity in Canada’s blue economy strategy.


The blue economy is an emerging concept that aims for the sustainable use of ocean resources while achieving the triple bottom line of economic, social, and ecological sustainability. The World Bank defines the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems.” It is the ocean analogue to the green economy concept. It is distinct from the term “marine economy” or “ocean economy”, which simply refers to any economic activity involving marine ecosystems; the blue economy includes these activities in addition to sustainable development objectives.

Central to the blue economy is social equity: the absence of unfair and unavoidable cost and benefit distributions. Individuals and groups with more decision-making power have the responsibility to ensure social equity is achieved because it is the morally right thing to do, and because it can enhance outcomes such as improved environmental integrity and project sustainability. In the context of marine resource management and conservation, it is imperative that individuals across all identities are properly included in decision-making, bear fair costs and benefits, have their rights recognized.

Canada has the longest coastline in the world, and its blue economy represents a diversity of sectors and actors. Important sectors include commercial fisheries, subsistence and recreational fisheries, tourism, shipping and marine transportation, marine renewable energy, and aquaculture. Canada’s commercial freshwater and marine fisheries contributed approximately $3.7 billion to its economy in 2018, and provided approximately 70 000 jobs for fishermen, crew, and seafood packaging workers. Its key actors include Indigenous communities, fisheries and aquaculture industry employees, educators, non-profit organizations, scientists, businesses and corporations, recreational users and recreational organizations, and government agencies who have jurisdiction over the use of ocean resources and areas.

Canada’s history, geography, society, and federalism give rise to a number of unique attributes that influence the equitability of its blue economy activities. These contextual factors in Canada must be considered in all blue economy policy decisions. The country’s history of colonialism and genocide requires Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples to be at the forefront of blue economic planning and implementation. Canada’s vast marine geography necessitates working closely with local communities and provinces to ensure that all blue economy policies and interventions are context-sensitive. Because of the vastness of Canada’s coastlines and marine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as its globalized economy, Canada’s transboundary activities have the potential to exacerbate inequities at home and abroad.

This report appraises the state of equity in Canada’s blue economy and highlights opportunities to further incorporate social equity based on case studies and best practice across the country. It presents a detailed definition of social equity as it pertains to the blue economy. It then discusses ways in which certain equity-seeking communities within Canada might be left behind. In particular, we discuss Indigenous leadership and sovereignty, intergenerational equity, gender-based equity, equity for racialized and immigrant populations, and Canada’s role in promoting equity through international fisheries and marine trade.

Each section of the report offers recommendations on how Canada can ensure each of these equity-seeking groups are accounted for as we aim to conserve and sustainably manage our coastlines and marine resources. Throughout the report, we present standalone regional case studies from each of Canada’s coasts to highlight best practices of equitable blue economy activities across the country.

About the authors

Kyle Fawkes (he/him/il) is an Ambassadorial and Global Grant Scholar with Rotary International. He is currently pursuing an LLM. in Global Environmental Law and Governance at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. His research focuses on investigating legal avenues for the prevention and resolution of conflicts in the global fishing industry. Kyle is also a research fellow with the Future Earth Coasts Network where he conducts evaluative research on global environmental assessments and public international processes for environmental governance. Kyle is a promoter of inclusive, pluralist and co-managed spaces for policy-making

Keila Stark (she/her/elle) is a PhD student of Zoology at the University of British Columbia and multilateral delegation coordinator with BCCIC’s Climate Change Branch. Her academic research focuses on how climate change influences biodiversity in coastal ecosystems, and how social equity in planning and implementing conservation interventions influences conservation success and human well-being. She co-authored three of BCCIC’s 2030 Agenda Shadow reports: Where Canada Stands Volumes II and III, and Reading Between the Lines. She advocates for equitable, evidence-based climate and biodiversity policy at various levels of governance. 

Angela Phan (she/her/elle) is an intersectional environmentalist and settler who is honoured to be located on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations. She is currently a research assistant with the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing. She has held several positions with environmental NGOs and is a recent alumna of Ocean Wise’s Ocean Bridge Program. She is passionate about climate and ocean justice that is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.

Bridget John (she/her/elle) is the research assistant for the Howe Sound/Átl’ka7tsem Marine Reference Guide and is starting a Masters in Marine Spatial Planning and Management at Memorial University in the fall. Bridget’s life has always revolved around the marine environment, working as a cetacean researcher in Wales, a fisheries observer on commercial fishing boats off BC’s northwest coast, an ocean educator with the Ocean Wise Mobile Programs and a recent alumna of Ocean Bridge. Bridget is passionate about ensuring the ocean and waterways are sustainable for current and future generations.

Jessica Steele (she/her/elle) is a climate justice activist, ocean conservationist and youth engager, striving to tread lightly and with intention on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral territories of the Coast Salish Peoples. Jessica works as a Sr. Referrals Analyst with Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) where she upholds Indigenous Rights through Consultation with stakeholders and governments. Previously, she worked with OceanWise as an educator on their AquaVan 150 Tour and as a coordinator with Ocean Bridge. Jessica is the co-president of the United Nations Association in Canada – Vancouver Branch.

Courtney Smaha (she/her/elle) is an Environmental Advisor at BC Ferries, and Master of Environment and Management Candidate at Royal Roads University. Her research focuses on ecosystem-based management of Canada’s Marine Protected Areas. In addition to her work and research, Courtney is a recent alumna of the Ocean Bridge Program, and has a passion for working towards a more equitable (and sustainable) future.

Fiona Beaty (she/her/elle) is a marine conservationist, researcher, and community leader based in the Salish Sea. She is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia, studying how coastal ecosystems and communities in British Columbia are responding to climate change and other anthropogenic pressures. In addition to graduate school, Fiona works with regional non-profit organizations, including MakeWay Charitable Society, Seachange Marine Conservation Society, and Ocean Wise, on marine spatial planning, restoration, and conservation projects based in the Salish Sea. Fiona is a strong advocate for pairing research with actions that advance our capacity to protect people and nature.