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Primary industries

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Primary industries are those that harvest or extract raw material from nature, such as agriculture, oil and gas extraction, logging and forestry, mining, fishing, and trapping. Together, agriculture and the extraction of oil and gas contributed 3.5% to Canada’s total economic output in 2004, while the remaining primary industries delivered 2.6%.

For much of our history, primary industries have played an important role, steadily contributing around 5% to 10% of the total economy. In recent years, output from primary industries has hovered around 6% of the total value of goods and services produced in Canada.

Chart: Primary industries' share of gross domestic product, at basic pricesPrimary industries also comprise a major part of Canada’s trade with other countries, provide raw materials for manufacturing and heavy industries, and furnish an economic base for rural and isolated communities.

In recent years, there have been important shifts in many primary industries. Fishing and trapping have undergone dramatic changes, formerly important industries such as asbestos mining have virtually disappeared, and new enterprises such as diamond production have emerged as valuable new industries.

Wild fish stocks are shrinking

When the impact of over-fishing became evident on Canada’s coasts in the early 1990s, the federal government announced fishing bans for certain species. As a result, Canada’s fishing industry began to change radically; among other things, we have seen much lower catches and a big increase in aquaculture.

Chart: Fisheries, commercial landings, quantityIn 1990, before quotas were imposed, Canada ranked 15th in the world by the size of its catch. By 2002 we had fallen to 21st place. In 1990, 1.3 million tonnes of seafish and shellfish were landed in the Atlantic fishery. From 1990 to 2003, the size of this catch fell 35% to 851,294 tonnes.

Canada has strong fishing industries on both the East and West coasts, with the Atlantic fishery being the larger of the two. In 2003, just half of the Atlantic fishery’s landings were shellfish. Although landings in the Pacific fishery are about one-quarter of the Atlantic’s, virtually all the salmon and much of the halibut caught in 2003 came from the Pacific fishery.

Chart: Fisheries, commercial landings, valueIn 2003, almost 60% of Canada’s total catch was exported. Of these exports, 35% were fresh and frozen shellfish. The United States buys the majority of our exports, but China and Japan are also large markets.

Like fishing, the trapping industry has also seen major shifts. Wildlife pelts represented 67% of the fur harvested in Canada in 1970, but by 2002 that had fallen to 44%. Today, most fur comes from fur farms. The annual production of pelts has remained fairly constant over the last few years, but their value has been rising. Most were exported to the United States or Europe, and there is also a growing market in China.

Forestry employment on the decline

With almost half of Canada’s land mass (402 million hectares) covered by trees, it is little wonder that forestry is so important to many Canadians. Most of these forests and the industries associated with them are heavily concentrated in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Moreover, many of people directly employed in forestry live in the rural communities that are economically dependent on the industry. In 1996, there were 337 forestry-dependent communities in Canada, the majority in Quebec and British Columbia.

Despite its importance to so many communities, direct forestry employment has been steadily declining. From 2000 to 2004, employment fell 33%, hitting a low of 52,367 people in 2004. Jobs indirectly associated with forestry have also been on the decline. In 2003, 285,000 were employed in forestry-related industries, a 2% decrease from 2002.

Canada has a trade surplus in forest products with almost all of our trading partners. Our biggest trading partner in forest products is the United States, which received 78% of our forest product exports in 2003. As such, the softwood lumber dispute created problems for the industry and those communities dependent on it.

Stimulating the mining industry

Chart: Primary industry employment, selected industriesWhile the lure of gold and silver attracted numerous prospectors to Canada in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Canada’s mineral industries, including copper, nickel, iron ore and uranium, took off. The total value of Canadian mineral production was $18.6 billion in 2003, up 1.5% from 2002.

Although gold, nickel, silver and potash remain important, diamonds have recently become a hot commodity. The mining of other valuable gemstones—such as high-quality emeralds in areas of British Columbia and Yukon, and sapphires in Nunavut—are anticipated to become significant new mining industries.

Since 1995, overall employment in the mining industry has decreased by 25%, falling to just under 46,000 employees in 2003. The diamond industry has been the lone bright spot in terms of employment, with jobs in diamond mining more than tripling from 1999 to 2003.