Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says Canada can get more out of its marine resources through a strategy that also protects ocean health.

The federal government began consultations Monday on a so-called Blue Economy Strategy that some industry representatives hope will provide more clarity and focused support.

Jordan said the goal of a blue economy is to create middle-class jobs while ensuring healthy oceans and sustainable marine industries from aquaculture to shipping. That can be achieved through strategic investment in areas like new technologies that enhance sustainable commercial fisheries, the development of offshore renewable energy and tourism, she said.

"A healthy ocean has a lot more to give," she said in an interview.

Canada's ocean industries contributed about $31.7 billion to the country's GDP each year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It could model possible growth on countries like Norway, where one-third of GDP comes from marine industries, she said.

"I think there's a huge potential for us to really look at the ocean as a space for post-pandemic recovery," Jordan said.

"This isn't about industrialization of the ocean, this is about making sure we're doing this in a sustainable, long-term, healthy way."

The government is starting engagement with a series of virtual roundtables and will accept feedback from industry, Indigenous groups, academics, the public and other stakeholders until June 15.

It plans to release the strategy in late fall.

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan says Canada can get more out of its marine resources through a strategy that also protects #ocean health. #CDNPoli #marineindustry #aquaculture #shipping

Paul Lansbergen, president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, welcomed the news. He said he'd like to see Canada become a leader in quality and sustainable production, adding that conservation doesn't have to mean economic stagnation.

"They're not mutually exclusive," Lansbergen said.

Fisheries are heavily regulated and he'd like to see a review that would allow for more flexibility in areas like which gear is permitted during particular seasons in particular areas, he said.

"Are the regulations flexible enough to allow the industry to innovate, to be sustainable and competitive globally at the same time?" Lansbergen said.

Industry could also work toward getting more value out of each harvest by adapting practices and targeting new markets, he said.

Timothy Kennedy, president and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said a co-ordinated vision for Canada's ocean economies is long overdue.

In the past 25 years, he said Canada has gone from the world's largest exporter of seafood to eighth and falling.

Kennedy said it's "confusing" to hear the federal government wants to support the aquaculture industry at the same time that it's working toward phasing out fish farms on the West Coast.

Jordan's announcement in December that fish farms would be eliminated in B.C.'s Discovery Islands over the next 18 months after unanimous opposition from local Indigenous leaders was a blow to the industry, he said. It represents a quarter of B.C.'s aquaculture industry and 1,500 jobs, Kennedy said.

"We need clarity," he said.

Kennedy said he'd like to see an advocacy body for the industry at the federal level.

Keith Henry, president of the Indigenous Tourism Association, said he hopes the 1,800 member organizations with businesses along Canada's coasts are included in the strategy. He's aware of the strategy but not yet involved, he said.

The association's analysis suggests strong interest in Indigenous tourism from both domestic and international clients and it has potential to play a strong role in Canada's post-COVID economic recovery, he said.

Consultation often means direct communication with community leadership but Indigenous industries sometimes only learn about the process indirectly, he said.

"We live by a slogan in our industry that's, 'It's not about us without us,'" Henry said.

"Often we see that federal initiatives tell us what they're going to do, but I think we're all trying to work to a place where we're meaningful partners and I think that still has a long way to go."

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021.