Crowded seas

The tag line for this crowded seas event (to paraphrase) was ‘ensuring fisheries needs are met sustainably in a healthy multi-use ocean’. Basically, planning ocean uses.

Panelists included sector representatives from oil and gas, shipping, conservation, renewable energy, port authorities and of course fishing. I think it’s safe to say that the panelists didn’t argue with the premise that the seas are getting more and more crowded. Instead the bulk of the conversation centered on what each of the sectors is doing to manage the various relationships in their industries in order to do business in the ocean. Whether that’s working with local communities, negotiating with First Nations, fulfilling regulatory requirements, reducing their environmental footprint, gathering science, engaging with all levels of government and participating in their various sector associations.
So the crowded part isn’t the issue here and in a Canadian context that’s new. It’s been said in the past that Canada is different from other parts of the world because of our vast open conflict free oceans. Many stakeholders often said that conflicts happen in places like Europe and that the need for tools like Marine Spatial Planning (similar to land use planning) to manage conflicts wasn’t necessary.
Apparently things have changed. With offshore renewable energy becoming more of a reality, First Nations planning and often times leading the way with comprehensive governance on their territory, renewed interest in oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and increased shipping traffic in many parts of the world the question now is not if, but when and how.
As Dan Edwards, crab fisherman from BC, said during the workshop, ‘conflict is a catalyst’. If that’s true then we have arrived at a point in our relationship to the ocean where planning is no longer a theoretical exercise but one that has to happen now in order for long lasting social, environmental and economic benefits.