Small Scales, Big Value: Creating a Value Chain to support Atlantic Canada’s sustainable fisheries

Last October, 2013, the Ecology Action Centre hosted a two-day workshop with the aim to:

  1. Bring together small-scale fishermen, retailers, chefs and distributors to quantify the demand from different market segments for Atlantic Canada’s ecologically and socially sustainable seafood.
  2. Explore different mechanisms for small-scale fishermen to meet these market demands.
  3. Identify barriers and opportunities for marketing Atlantic Canada’s small-scale fisheries including branding opportunities.  
  4. Identify priority action items to move forward in the promotion of ecologically and socially sustainable seafood products from Atlantic Canada.

Discussions at the workshop led to broad agreement on several recommendations, which have been compiled and released in a report called Small Scale, Big Value: Creating a Value Chain to Support Atlantic Canada's Sustainable Fisheries. You can download the report here. The main findings were the following:

  • Markets. Participants agreed that new marketing approaches are vital. If the goal is to protect and improve the livelihoods of Atlantic Canada’s small-scale fishermen, we need to escape the commodity curse and focus on marketing the quality and story of the seafood. At the same time, fishermen need to connect to targeted markets that recognize- and are willing to pay a premium for- high quality, responsibly harvested products.  Identified market targets included farmer’s markets, chef-operated restaurants, specialty retailers in other parts of Canada, and institutional buyers including universities and health care providers.
  • New Relationships. Small-scale fisheries are simply getting squeezed out of commodity markets as vertically integrated companies using high volume-low value fishing methods increasingly control market levers like price and quota access. While recognizing that there have often been tensions between fishermen and the buyers, processors, and distributors along the seafood supply chain, everyone agreed that is time to forge new and innovative relationships, from fee-for-service arrangements between fishermen and processors to regional branding partnerships.
  • Building links.  Atlantic Canada doesn’t have a regional distribution network for seafood, leaving small-scale fishermen stuck when it comes to getting their products to the regional markets that demand them. Participants agreed it would be worthwhile to explore the idea of a regional “seafood hub” that uses online tools to market and manage products, along with third-party transportation services to consolidate and distribute seafood.
  • Values-based branding. The group agreed that current seafood sustainability certification standards fail to capture the full range of values represented by Atlantic Canada’s small-scale, community-based fisheries. However, the idea of a regional branding scheme was discussed. Common values that the participants were interested in incorporating into a regional brand included fair prices for fishermen, maintaining independent owner-operators, supporting sustainable fishing practices, safe working conditions, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility.
  • Sharing Stories.  Finally, there was general consensus that small-scale fishermen could do a better job sharing their success stories, both with other fishing communities and the public at large. Appreciating how busy most fishermen are, the idea of partnering with NGOs like the Ecology Action Centre was suggested as a way to help spread the good word about innovative projects and marketing successes coming out of Atlantic Canada’s small-scale fisheries.
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