Why should we celebrate Oceans Day here in Canada?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today, 8 June 2012, is the official World Oceans Day. And this year, 2012, is a special year for oceans. It’s the 20th anniversary of World Oceans Day. Kudos goes to the former Government of Canada for proposing the concept of World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The day has been celebrated internationally ever since.

WWF-Canada President and CEO Gerald Butts speaking to a crowd on Oceans Day 2011 in Ottawa. ©  Greg Teckles / WWF-Canada

But why should we celebrate Oceans Day here in Canada? There is no doubt that the oceans have changed more in the past 30 years than in all of human history. But we are still the envy of the world. Not only does Canada have the longest coastline, we also have globally significant populations of whales and 28 different species of sharks; Canada’s oceans are home to the largest living reptile, the endangered leatherback turtle, and we have amazing natural wonders like the Arctic sea or the Great Bear Sea on the Pacific North coast.
The Great Bear Sea contains some of the earth’s most pristine wild salmon rivers that flow down to some of the most productive cold-water seas. The Great Bear is one of the richest and most spectacular ecosystems on our planet and also supports thousands of jobs in tourism and in fisheries.  That’s why WWF, jointly with Coastal First Nations, has launched a new campaign to protect the Great Bear Sea.
2012 also marks the 20th anniversary of Canada’s most devastating fisheries collapse. On July 2nd, 1992, the Canadian government imposed a moratorium on Newfoundland’s northern cod fishery. Decades of overfishing had severely depleted cod stocks and government officials hoped the moratorium would allow the stock to rebuild. The closure ended almost 500 years of this traditional fishing activity in Newfoundland and Labrador, putting ten thousands of people out of work. Fish plants closed, boats remained docked, and hundreds of coastal communities that had depended on the fishery for generations watched their economic and cultural mainstay disappear overnight. Yet it is remarkable how little action has been taken by policy makers to reverse the decline of fish in the sea, especially in eastern Canada.
Overfishing, chemical pollution and global warming are the chief threats to oceans. WWF aims to stop global overfishing and rebuild the Grand Banks through a combination of governance reform, a financial institution to pay for the implementation of fisheries improvements and reform measures and market demand for sustainable seafood. We are aiming high, we believe in sustainability, and we are not alone.

Canada’s Fisheries Minister Ashfield, Paul Uys and Melanie Agopian from Loblaw companies and the panda. ©  Greg Teckles / WWF-Canada

Today we celebrate the leadership of corporate partners like Loblaw which has become such an important driver for marine conservation in Canada. Loblaw is Canada’s largest purchaser of seafood. It has made a globally leading commitment to obtain 100% of its wild and farmed seafood from sustainable sources by the end of 2013. Loblaw is collaborating with WWF and other NGOs such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC, the world’s leading certification organization and eco-labelling body for wild- capture seafood), science advisors, and its many seafood vendors to achieve this goal. Seafood sustainability is also incorporated into the business model of High Liner Foods, Canada’s leading supplier of seafood to retailers worldwide. Last month, High Liner Foods announced that it has formed a partnership with the MSC and that it will label products with a MSC’s blue sustainability checkmark. Canadian shoppers will be more readily able to incorporate sustainability into household decisions that are vitally important to the future of our oceans.
Canadian firms such as Loblaw and High Liner are trend-setters. They belong to a growing number of initiatives around the world, which recognize that the crises in our oceans are driving massive losses in biodiversity and global economic performance (even as seafood demand is expected to increase by 50 percent by 2030). Restocking our seas makes large-scale economic sense.
In an effort to rebuild the natural capital of healthy oceans, The Prince of Wales’ charity launched a marine program on global sustainable fisheries in January; in February, The Economist magazine organized the first World Ocean’s Summit in Singapore and the World Bank announced the formation of a Global Partnership for Oceans. As the Rio+20 Summit approaches at the end of this month, there is broad consensus on the need to scale up the pace of ocean conservation around the world.
Like people the world over, Canadians love orcas, sea otters and dolphins. Like Loblaw and High Liner, the Canadian government should pick up the ball it once held and resume its leadership role on ocean conservation. There was no announcement by the Minister this year and I am not confident that the spotlight will shine on Canada in Rio. If, for example, the government had announced Fisheries Act changes that would have effectively modernized Canada’s fisheries instead of planning to weaken the Act (so that it essentially becomes an economic regulation tool), then we really would have something to celebrate on this special day for the world’s oceans.