Photo: Marine team works for healthy oceans and freshwater

Our current and future work will focus on making sustainable seafood available to all Canadians

By Sutton Eaves

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All life begins in the sea. It's a saying and scientific tenet that's provided an overarching theme to much of David Suzuki's life. David describes fishing with his father as one of his most influential memories, providing the inspiration for a lifetime of protecting Canada's oceans.

Recognizing early on that marine environments are an integral part of our Earth's ecosystem, the Foundation began to examine the impact human activity was having on our oceans. In the mid–'90s, we pioneered some of the first reports on biodiversity loss on the West Coast and the need to restructure our fisheries to make them more sustainable. We conducted groundbreaking research on the impacts of open netcage salmon farming on wild Pacific salmon stocks.

The Foundation has worked closely with First Nations groups, joining with the Musqueam band in 1997 to restore the watershed of urban Vancouver's last wild salmon stream. As part of the Pacific Salmon Forest project a year later, Foundation co–founder Tara Cullis embarked on a diplomatic tour of remote First Nations communities along the B.C. coast to help find ways to create ecosystem sustainability and economic stability. Research funded by the project also showed that bears along the coast transfer large quantities of salmon carcasses from rivers into forests, and that the nutrients from the salmon nourish the forest and its plant and animal life. The study offered some of the first clear evidence that all life truly is connected.

The Foundation continued to up the ante on salmon farming in 2000 by funding the Legatt Inquiry, a public salmon farming investigation that was launched after the B.C. government suggested it would lift a moratorium on industry expansion. Our recommendations included removing all net–cage salmon farms from the B.C. coast, and shed light on the problems with salmon aquaculture – as well as the solutions. We were one of the early advocates of closed–containment salmon farming to keep farmed fish separate from their wild counterparts.

Managing oceans as integrated, functioning ecosystems was such a large focus for the Foundation that it formally launched its marine and freshwater conservation team in 2002. Since then, the team has been at the centre of groundbreaking legal cases forcing the government to protect the habitat of endangered species. We've pressured legislators to start a marine planning process on the West Coast so that delicate ecosystems are protected from industrial activities.

Moving forward, we will continue our work promoting sustainable fisheries through SeaChoice, Canada's national sustainable seafood program, started in 2006. SeaChoice is helping grocers and other retailers buy, sell, and source seafood that doesn't put our fish stocks or marine ecosystems at risk. Not even a year into its partnership with SeaChoice, Overwaitea Food Group announced it would be one of the first retailers in Canada to make closed-containment farmed salmon available to its customers.

The move underscored a growing belief that choosing sustainable seafood is a valuable way for consumers, retailers, and industry to help promote healthy oceans. We aim to achieve many wins like this one in the coming years.