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Knowledge Itself is Power

To the surprise of few, the current season in lobster fishing areas 33-34 is turning out to be a difficult one.

Everyone involved with what is one of the world’s largest lobster fisheries knew the chips were stacked against them this year. Some have even called it a perfect storm of decreased landings, markets and prices, combined with early foul and inclement weather.

From lower shore prices, to international market uncertainty, to the back-breaking jump in inflation — these obstacles are taking their toll on all involved.

However, fishermen and processors in this region have encountered many obstacles in the past and have always endured and come out on the other side — even though it has never been easy. And this season will be no different.

And as everyone will tell you, these seafood industry obstacles are just not isolated to Southwest Nova Scotia or Atlantic Canada — they are being felt by industry stakeholders around the globe. In the face of these global fishing industry hurdles, many are brainstorming on what short and medium-term solutions might be derived to assist those involved in our industry.

For example, on Canada’s west coast, a new seafood business accelerator program (SBA), led by the Centre for Seafood Innovation at Vancouver Island University and in partnership with the B.C. Commercial Fishing Caucus, is aimed at helping self-employed fishermen become more self-sufficient business and community food providers.

The debut program will provide an intensive, seafood specific, four-month training to help 20 small-scale seafood harvesters (including wild harvest fish, shellfish and seaweed and farmed shellfish) find their niche within the global food system. The initiative will include early business stage coaching, food industry training and project implementation services — all considered vital support to help harvesters seek new avenues of differentiation.

Project organizers state that there are an estimated 1,900-2,000 small-scale harvesters in British Columbia, many of whom need to innovate their products to stand apart from their foreign competitors. But the lack of business support and coaching has meant that many do not know where or how to start this process in a globally competitive marketplace.

Could or should a program like this work in this region?

Our colleagues in B.C. state, for their region, this program comes at a pivotal time, due to the growing consumer demand for transparency in the food system, raised awareness of supply chain fragility and the importance of supporting local.

Participants of the training will take part in workshops and webinars focused on food industry training, coaching, business advice and implementation services. During an expert in residence portion, the focus will be on product development, marketing, financing or other participant needs.

By the end of the four months, all 20 participants will have a completed innovation plan and a product or marketing system prototype to present to potential buyers or other interested parties. As a bonus, the SBA includes a workforce attraction component where students from a variety of faculties will be invited to observe and assist throughout the program.

Today’s fishermen are not just harvesters of seafood, but businesspeople operating complex enterprises.

While a business and marketing program like the one being launched in B.C. might not appeal to every harvester in our region, there would certainly be some who would love to avail of such training.

Lately, the global seafood industry seems to be evolving and changing at every turn — oftentimes it is almost impossible to keep up with these developments. Any training that can help educate area harvesters and possibly give them a competitive advantage in today’s seafood market should be seriously looked at.

Perhaps local fishermen, related advocacy groups, politicians and government should reach out across the country to our brethren in B.C. to learn more about their new seafood business accelerator program?

With funding available from such sources as the $400-million Atlantic Fisheries Fund (AFF), there should no reason why similar training programs could not be established in Atlantic Canada.

As Sir Francis Bacon once wrote in his work Meditationes Sacrae, “knowledge itself is power.”