Valuing our Fisheries: Breaking the Commodity Curse | Ecology Action Centre

Valuing our Fisheries: Breaking the Commodity Curse

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Valuing our Fisheries: Breaking the Commodity Curse analyses the ways that Nova Scotia’s seafood industry could maximize value and employment in the fisheries sector. Focusing on the groundfish supply chain, Valuing our Fisheries demonstrates how higher wharf prices can be generated by tapping into non-commodity markets that value quality, sustainability and genuine connections with food producers.

The report proposes an alternative 'value chain' model for Nova Scotia’s owner-operator fisheries. Commodity supply chains take products and push them to market, but a value chain happens in reverse. It starts with what consumers want – fresh, fair fish – and then establishes relationships that allow this to happen.

Report key findings:

  • Almost 80% of Nova Scotia’s groundfish is fished with destructive bottom trawls or ‘dredges’ and only 20% is caught by sustainable bottom longline gear. However, the bottom longline fleet generates significantly more employpment in the fishery than the trawl fleet.
  • Large-scale trawlers and dredges land volumes of fish that are uneconomical to process in Canada. Most groundfish is exported from the province whole – not processing haddock leads to a loss of $5 – $8 million in export revenue each year.
  • Actors in Nova Scotia’s seafood sector rarely communicate or share information other than when buying and selling products. This leads to competition that lowers prices and limits strategic planning.
  • There are markets willing to pay premiums for high quality, sustainable seafood in order to support local economies and food producers.
  • Most seafood pricing in Nova Scotia is based on fish auctions in New England. Prices vary widely, unpredictably, and without any direct relationship to regional supply and regional demand. This leaves small scale fishers in Nova Scotia vulnerable to the price fluctuations of the international commodity market.
  • Regional distribution remains one of the key deficiencies in the Nova Scotia’s seafood sector. The post-harvest supply chain of seafood is aligned with the international commodity market, resulting in some of Nova Scotia’s finest seafood products being shipped overseas. Local chefs and consumers have only sporadic access to fresh seafood.

In addition to hook and line-caught groundfish harvested by owner-operator fishermen, the report identifies several other Nova Scotian seafood products that provide opportunities for increasing the value of the seafood industry, including:

  • Harpoon-caught swordfish, with minimal harmful bycatch of sharks and sea turtles;
  • Hand-dug non-depurated clams, as part of a global ‘Clam Revolution’;
  • Chedabucto Bay Trap-Caught shrimp, from an innovative winter shrimp fishery in Canso; and,
  • An experimental ‘Diver-Caught Scallop’ fishery still under development that could increase the price of some Nova Scotian scallops by 20%


The report and ensuing work has been supported by the Donner Canadian Foundation and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Regional Value Chain Program.

More information:

Over the coming months, the Ecology Action Centre will further explore the report’s ideas in a series of posts on the “Small Scales” blog.



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