06/08/2014 10:27 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:04 EDT

Oceans Day Still Belongs to Canadians

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2010 file photo, a sea otter is seen in Morro Bay, Calif. From sea otters to blue whales, marine mammals are under stress from climate change, ocean acidification, hunting and other threats. Researchers have identified 20 important sites around the world where they say conservation efforts should concentrate. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

World Oceans Day, celebrated across the globe on June 8, is Canada's brainchild. The Canadian government proposed the concept in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. This makes Monday's news of Canada's significant ocean protection shortcomings, courtesy of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society's report, all the more hard to swallow.

The numbers are less than encouraging: only 1.3 per cent of our oceans are protected by law. Fortunately, this is not the only story of ocean conservation to be told in this country. There is another one. The main characters aren't policy-makers, but fishermen, fishmongers, and consumers. The plot is a quiet revolution taking place at sea, which is playing out at Canada's fish counters.

Five years ago, Loblaw, Canada's largest food retailer, made a world-leading commitment to sustainable seafood supported by WWF. As of December 2013, close to 90 per cent of seafood products sold in its stores are now responsibly sourced or come from sources that are making meaningful progress towards sustainability. That includes achieving the world's highest standards: Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified wild seafood and Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified farmed seafood. Other retailers have quickly followed suit.

The decision to transform how and what a retailer chooses to put on its shelves matters because it is a decision that reverberates across the entire chain of production. Specifically, it is a decision that connects consumers to the almost invisible force of supply and demand that they fundamentally shape. In other words, by giving consumers more choices, better choices, retailers are putting the power to conserve oceans directly in the hands of the people who eat from those oceans.

That power is real. When, for example, a Newfoundland cod fishery commits to the hard work and heavy lifting necessary to meet the MSC's rigorous certification standards -- they're doing it because the market demands it. That's happening. And when we consider that, less than a generation ago, this country faced one of the largest ecological collapses in the world resulting in several moratoria on cod fishing -- this fishery's accomplishment, having what it takes to meet the gold standard of sustainability, is astonishing. It demonstrates what is possible. And there has never been a more critical moment to scale up and out this kind of solution.

Ninety per cent of the world's marine stocks are either fully exploited or overfished. Though some are showing very encouraging signs of recovery, Canada's cods stocks are still a mere fraction of what they once were.

Government has a critical role to play in ocean recovery and Canada must -- and still can -- step up to the plate to achieve national protection goals. The fact that the Federal Government recently allocated $37 million for oceans in its new National Conservation Plan -- the majority of which will go toward increasing protection -- is a promising sign.

We should also derive great hope from the power to step up to our own plates, and fill them wisely. On average, Canadians eat seafood about once a week. Every time someone asks where that seafood comes from, if it was caught sustainably, if it is certified by the highest standards, if it comes from well-protected oceans -- the momentum behind that quiet revolution builds. Oceans Day still belongs to Canadians.