Scenarios for investigating the future of Canada’s oceans and marine fisheries under environmental and socioeconomic change

Fisheries Economics Research Unit (UBC) Research Associate Louise Teh, Nereus Director of Science William Cheung, and OceanCanada Director and Nereus Research Associate (Honourary) Rashid Sumaila recently had a paper (“Scenarios for investigating the future of Canada’s oceans and marine fisheries under environmental and socioeconomic change“) published in Regional Environmental Change, wherein they review existing methods of scenario analysis (preparing for future response based on multiple potential outcomes) in the marine conservation and fisheries sectors in Canada. Their aim was to determine whether these scenario analyses in the existing literature adequately consider biophysical, socioeconomic and policy-related factors to “provide an integrated social-ecological perspective about alternative ocean futures”.

The authors explored alternative futures for Canadian ocean sustainability at a national scale. Image: “Bull trout” by USFWS – Pacific Region, CC BY-NC 2.0.

There is a critical need to develop effective strategies for the long-term sustainability of Canada’s oceans. However, this is challenged by uncertainty over future impacts of global environmental and socioeconomic change on marine ecosystems, and how coastal communities will respond to these changes. Scenario analysis can address this uncertainty by exploring alternative futures for Canadian oceans under different pathways of climate change, economic development, social and policy changes. However, there has, to date, been no scenario analysis of Canada’s future ocean sustainability at a national scale. To facilitate this process, we review whether the literature on existing scenarios of Canada’s fisheries and marine ecosystems provides an integrative, social-ecological perspective about potential future conditions. Overall, there is sufficient national-level oceanographic data and application of ecosystem, biophysical, and socioeconomic models to generate projections of future ocean and socioeconomic trends in Canada. However, we find that the majority of marine-related scenario analyses in Canada focus on climate scenarios and the associated oceanographic and ecological changes. There is a gap in the incorporation of social, economic, and governance drivers in scenarios, as well as a lack of scenarios which consider the economic and social impact of future change. Moreover, available marine scenario studies mostly do not cover all three Canadian oceans simultaneously. To address these gaps, we propose to develop national-level scenarios using a matrix framework following the concept of Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, which would allow a social-ecological examination of Canada’s oceans in terms of the state of future uncertainties.