Sea legs: The road from Winnipeg to the coast is shorter than you think

Life takes you in funny directions.  You might remember—from my last blog post—how I made this major, life-changing career switch from commerce to conservation.  And that it was my passion for Canada’s forests that drove this pivotal decision.  And that I came to WWF to put that passion to work through projects like our Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) initiative.
Yeah.  About that.
It turns out I joined WWF at this really historic moment. After more than twenty years of focused effort, we’d finally propelled enough change and helped build enough capacity to maintain a transformative shift in how Canada manages our forests.  Now, we could begin to step away and focus much needed attention elsewhere.   On our oceans. “Yay!” I say, through a gritted smile.
I’m from the heartland.  Prairies, I get.  Forests, I get.  Lakes, I get.  Oceans?  My experience could be summed up in two snap shots. (1) Me in swim trunks with skinny eight-year old legs and bare feet stepping on a jelly fish on the red sand of PEI.  (2) Me, twenty years later, in a wet suit hovering over the kaleidoscope of life and colour that is the Great Barrier Reef, having my mind blown.  Fear and Awe.

Juvenile yelloweye, Bowie Seamount, Canada © Neil McDaniel / WWF-Canada
I didn’t have a clue what catching swordfish had to do with threatened Canadian sharks (um, we have sharks?).  I had no idea what caused the collapse of our Grand Bank’s cod.  I certainly didn’t realize that less than 1 percent of Canada’s oceans were protected (far, far less than our forests).  Nor did I imagine that Canada had places like the Pacific’s Bowie Seamount and the Atlantic’s Gully that hummed with the same spectacular diversity of life—whales, sharks, deep-sea coral—that I saw on the other side of the world.
But the biggest ah-ha moment, the most important surprise, was coming to understand that the same tools and tactics we use to protect our forests could be applied to helping save our underwater environment.  Now I was getting my sea legs.
As it turns out, the success of FSC as a certification system for sustainably procured timber products had helped WWF conceptualize a similar model for certifying the sustainable harvesting of seafood.  In partnership with Unilever, we founded the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) in 1996 as a way to drive change through the seafood industry from “hook to cook.”  Today it is the most credible and trusted sustainable seafood label in the world.

In the same way that WWF worked with big forestry industry partners to bring FSC to life, we are now working with Loblaw—our country’s largest retailer—to support their world-leading commitment to sustainable seafood.   Their pledge to sourcing 100 percent sustainable seafood products by 2013 has led them to carry more MSC products than any other retail store in Canada (an increase form 16 to 34 in the past year!).  They are also helping lead the charge on sustainable canned tuna (95 percent of their tuna vendors are committed to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation guidelines) and more responsible farmed fish products.
But what is really inspiring and ambitious about Loblaw’s commitment is that it doesn’t just apply to what you and I would think of as “seafood” – you know, fish.  It also applies to every product they carry that has a seafood ingredient in it—like pet food and vitamins…things most of us wouldn’t even realize have an impact on our oceans.  No one else in the world, of Loblaw’s size and scale, has made that kind of commitment.
Having played a part in helping establish this partnership with Loblaw, I must say, this makes me feel pretty good.  And I’m not alone.  Last month, Greenpeace—who is also helping Loblaw achieve its goals—awarded them first place in their annual Seafood Sustainably Report.  And that is no small feat!
So, has this mid-western boy become a sea-lover at last?  Darn straight.  It doesn’t matter where you live or where you’re from—we all have a stake in Canada’s oceans (ahem, make that an MSC certified “salmon steak!”).