Federal minister talks saving the oceans at UBC event

During a recent visit to UBC, one of Canada’s top officials discussed how universities can save the ocean.

Over the next few weeks, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, Jonathan Wilkinson, will be visiting universities across the country as part of the Ocean Campus Tours.

Wilkinson started off on home soil with a visit to UBC last week, speaking to faculty and students about their research and engaging in discussions on ocean health and the role of science in informing public policy.

Wilkinson, who is also a North Vancouver Member of Parliament, currently oversees a large portfolio covering the safeguarding of Canadian waters and management of the country’s fisheries, ocean and freshwater resources as well as their corresponding economic sectors.

“I actually find the department of fisheries and oceans is quite an interesting department to be responsible for. In part because its mandate touches very clearly on both economic and environmental drivers,” said Wilkinson, who was appointed to the position in July 2018.

The Minister spoke on several environmental issues affecting the world’s oceans, including microplastics, biodiversity loss, overfishing and climate change.

“A lot of the environmental challenges [are] going to come home to roost most particularly for generation and the generations that come after you,” said Wilkinson in a Q & A with UBC faculty and students. “And so engagement in scientific conversations is absolutely critically important, but engagement in political conversation is really, really important.”

Canada has recently seen an increase in designated Marine Protected Areas, jumping from one per cent to eight per cent over the last four years, and is currently working towards the 2020 target of 10 per cent.

According to Wilkinson, the fishing industry “grew more quickly here than it did anywhere else in the country,” making aquaculture an important topic for British Columbians as a $1.5 billion sector that employs 6,600 people.

In the Broughton Archipelago, a recent agreement between three First Nations, the Namgis, the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis and Mamalilikulla, federal and provincial governments, and two fish farming companies, Marine Harvest Canada and Cermaq Canada, will see open net fish farms phased out by 2023 over concerns on their impact on wild salmon populations.

The current livestock and jobs are expected to move to other farms in the province in order to restore the area which is a major salmon migration route and has seen declining wild populations over the years.

Wilkinson also spoke on the department’s move to area-based management, where local context such as social acceptance, and economic and environmental viability are taken into account during the decision making process. In regards to the Broughton Archipelago, he hopes to “make decisions going forward that address all of those.”

Wilkinson emphasized the government’s commitment to reinvesting in science, including research at UBC. Still, he stressed a need for “a turning outwards. To actually have more engagement and more conversation and to leverage the work that's being done.”

This work not only includes the science at DFO’s own labs, but also the marine and ocean research occurring at UBC and other Canadian schools, which Wilkinson said are “bang on the issues we need to care about and pay attention to.”