HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's fishery needs to become a more local, sustainable industry that supports independent fishermen, a Halifax-based environmental group said Monday.

In a new report, the Ecology Action Centre said the industry has for too long focused on exporting high volumes of unprocessed seafood to international markets for a lower cost.

The report said there is an appetite for environmentally sustainable seafood caught locally in small-scale fisheries, but co-author Dave Adler said consumers are often satisfied to buy fish that has been processed and packaged overseas for large companies.

"Somewhere along the line, we've lost the value in local, fresh, sustainable fish," Adler said in an interview. "People have stopped asking, 'Where is it from? How was it harvested? When was it caught?"'

Adler said independent fishermen aren't getting a fair price for their catch and are struggling to compete against big firms with higher quotas, bigger boats and better equipment.

"Our coastal communities are built from these small-scale fishermen and their families, and they're getting put out of business and their communities are suffering."

Adler said it costs more to run a sustainable fishery, but he believes consumers are willing to shell out for a quality product that supports the local economy.

He said the majority of the province's seafood is processed outside Nova Scotia, mostly in China. Exporting whole haddock and importing the fillets costs the province's GDP between $5 million and $20 million a year, the 54-page report said.

The report calls for the creation a network of fishermen, processors, distributors and retailers that will work to promote local, sustainable seafood.

It also recommends shipping sustainably caught groundfish directly from fishermen throughout the province and distinguishing sustainable seafood caught with environmentally friendly gear from other products on the market.

The report does not attach any dollar figures to its recommendations, but Adler said an upcoming report will focus on a business plan for a sustainable fishery.

Jordan Nikoloyuk, who co-authored the report with Adler, said the industry needs to undergo an attitude shift that starts with consumers and retailers demanding sustainable products.

He said it won't be easy, but noted change is already occurring elsewhere in the food sector as people seek out organic products as well as produce and meats from local farmers.

"There's a lot of independent fishermen who are realizing their business needs to change, there's a lot of smaller processors who are realizing they need to change," said Nikoloyuk.

"What's happening in the local food movement is really catching up in seafood. I think it's an excellent time."