Goal 14: Conserve and protect Canada's oceans

Why this goal is important

Recognizing that Canada's coasts and oceans are facing pressures, the focus of this Goal is on conserving and protecting Canada's oceans.

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This focus directly supports SDG Global Indicator Framework targets:

  • 14.1: By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
  • 14.2: By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
  • 14.4: By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
  • 14.5: By 2020, conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information

Climate change is increasing water levels and temperatures and the loss of marine habitat. With rising sea levels, ocean acidification and thinning sea ice, life is becoming more vulnerable in many coastal, northern and Indigenous communities.

Growing pressure on fish stocks poses challenges for fisheries management. A shortfall in wild-caught fish and seafood is projected for the coming decade. As the world's fastest-growing food production sector, increasing sustainable aquaculture production could potentially relieve harvesting pressure on wild fish stocks. Aquaculture already represents nearly 20% of total seafood production in Canada, and about a third of the total economic value of fisheries. Sound management of aquaculture is also important for protecting ocean ecosystems, such as by preventing the escape of farmed fish into the ocean.

Oceans are not only home to an immense web of marine life, they also generate half of the oxygen we breathe, act as thermostats to regulate the Earth's temperature, and support most of our planet's biodiversity. Dependence on ocean resources and services will increase as populations grow. Other issues affecting our oceans include increased physical and noise disturbances from marine shipping, human use and development, oil spills and other contaminants, and the introduction and spread of invasive alien species.

As plastics have become part of everyday lives around the world, managing their life cycle becomes critical. Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic pollution enter the oceans from land, globally. It is found on shorelines, in the water, and even in wildlife. For example, between 2001 and 2018, 69% of Arctic-nesting Northern Fulmars that were examined had plastic particles in their stomach. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, also known as ghost gear, are major contributors to the plastic debris problem and mortality of non-target species. Recent studies indicate that ghost gear may make up to 70% of all macro-plastics in the ocean by weight.

Canada is an ocean-rich country, with the world's longest coastline linking 3 different oceans—Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific. Canada's oceans are home to many species of marine life, including many at-risk species such as 42 distinct populations of whales. These whales and other marine species at risk, such as seabirds and shorebirds, are vital to marine and coastal ecosystems, and central to ecotourism in coastal communities. They include iconic but endangered species such as the Southern Resident killer whale, North Atlantic right whale, St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga, as well as Pink-footed Shearwater, Ivory Gull, and Red Knot.

Conserving coastal and marine areas helps address these environmental challenges, as do actions Canadians are taking to ensure healthy, resilient, sustainably managed and productive fisheries and ecosystems over the long term. One in five Canadians live in coastal communities and today's ocean industries generate more than $30 billion a year and more than 300,000 jobs, which reveals the potential of a blue economy.

How the Government of Canada contributes

Protecting Canada's marine ecosystems from the threats of pollution, climate change and overfishing is critical to their long-term health. 

Read more on how the government of Canada contributes

For the Government of Canada, one of the most important initiatives is the establishment of marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, including marine refuges. Marine protected areas are defined geographical spaces in the water that are dedicated and managed in an effort to conserve and protect unique areas, ecologically significant species and their habitats, and representative marine environments. Other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM) are area-based measures that provide long-term biodiversity outcomes, regardless of their original intended objective.

In addition, the Government of Canada in April 2019 announced new protection standards for federal MPAs and federal marine OECMs, including marine refuges. All future federal MPAs are subject to a new federal standard that prohibits oil and gas activities, mining, dumping as well as commercial and recreational bottom trawling.

The Government of Canada has adopted Marine Spatial Planning, an internationally recognized approach to integrated ocean planning and management. By working with provinces, territories, and Indigenous partners in a collaborative and transparent way, Marine Spatial Planning supports the protection of healthy marine ecosystems while fostering sustainable economic growth.

As part of its marine conservation efforts, the Government of Canada has committed to modernizing theOceans Act to explicitly consider climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and species in regional ocean management, ensuring the Act provides for measurable progress indicators and objectives, and to create a national, interdisciplinary working group focused on climate-resilient ocean conservation planning.

The Fisheries Act provides the legislative basis for the sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture in Canada. Modernized in 2019, the Fisheries Act now provides stronger protections and modern safeguards for fish and their habitat. The Sustainable Fisheries Framework also supports sustainable fisheries, establishing a precautionary approach to fisheries management. The federal government also has plans to introduce Canada's first-ever Aquaculture Act to support responsible aquaculture production.

The Government of Canada has also made important investments for protecting the biodiversity of marine species, including the Oceans Protection Plan, the Whales Initiative, and the Enhanced Nature Legacy Initiative. These initiatives support the recovery and protection of marine species, including endangered whales, from anthropogenic threats such as physical and acoustic disturbances, vessel strikes, lack of prey, and contaminants. The next phase of the Oceans Protection Plan will invest $2 billion over 9 years to improve the safe movement and navigation of large and small vessels, keep Canada's supply chains healthy, strong and resilient, expand Canada's marine emergency prevention, preparedness and response, and strengthen marine traffic management. It will also involve amendments to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, including to enable the proactive management of marine emergencies and to address a broader range of pollution from vessels.

The Government of Canada is developing a forward-looking Blue Economy Strategy. It seeks to grow Canada's ocean and freshwater economy, and supports the long-term sustainable growth of Canada's fish and seafood sector. It will ensure Canada is positioned to succeed in the fast-growing global ocean sectors of the blue economy and advance reconciliation, conservation and climate objectives.

Reducing plastic waste, marine litter, plastic pollution and marine spills is a priority for the Government of Canada. Canada plays an active role in international efforts to address marine plastic pollution, including through the Ocean Plastics Charter, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, as well as legally binding international agreements that prevent marine waste and litter and ensure that marine wastes are disposed of in an environmentally sound way. The Government of Canada has committed to promoting Canadian technologies for reducing ocean plastics.

Tuvaijuittuq Marine Protected Area

On August 1, 2019, Tuvaijuittuq, meaning “the place where ice never melts,” became the first marine protected area established via Ministerial Order under the Oceans Act. By limiting human activities in the area for up to 5 years, this measure protects more than 300,000 square kilometres of Arctic water off the coast of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Tuvaijuittuq is a testament to a successful collaboration among the Government of Canada, the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. Future assessment of the region to support longer-term protection will include science and traditional and local knowledge such as Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, a source of information passed down from generation to generation.

Stakeholder perspective: Birds Canada

Birds Canada is a nationwide non-profit, charitable organization built on the contributions of thousands of supporters and volunteer Citizen Scientists. Their mission is to drive action to increase the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of birds in Canada. Data collected by Citizen Scientists, alongside targeted research and outreach projects, are used to identify changes in bird populations and help direct conservation actions. Birds Canada is working with Indigenous communities on both the east and west coasts to help inform and improve the conservation status of several seabird and shorebird species. This work has involved close collaborations with Indigenous communities to find and remove invasive species from remote seabird colonies on Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, as well as partnering with Coastal First Nations to train and equip their Guardian programs to deploy trail cameras on isolated islands to detect threats on coastal, burrow-nesting seabirds.

Source: Birds Canada

Additional context and updates regarding this goal

Targets, indicators, milestones and contextual indicators

Targets, indicators, milestones and contextual indicators

Theme:  Ocean protection and conservation

Target: Marine conservation (1)

Conserve 25% of marine and coastal areas by 2025, and 30% by 2030, in support of the commitment to work to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 in Canada, and achieve a full recovery for nature by 2050 (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard)

Indicator (i)

Canada's conserved areas

This indicator tracks the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas conserved through marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, including marine refuges. Conserved areas are lands and waters that are managed for the long-term conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems. As of the end of 2021, 13.9% of Canada's marine and coastal area was recognized as conserved.

Short-term milestone: Establish new national marine conservation areas (1)

Establish 10 national marine conservation areas by the end of 2026, working with Indigenous communities on co-management agreements for these national marine conservation areas.

Short-term milestone: Further develop Canada's Ghost Gear Program (1)

By the end of 2024, obtain data related to reported lost and recovered, abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear in Canadian waters and use this information to further develop the Ghost Gear Program and inform fisheries management measures

By the end of 2025, establish and grow the Ghost Gear Program in the Canadian Arctic and obtain baseline data on lost gear and fishing efforts for the region

Theme:  Ocean sustainability

Target: Sustainable fisheries (2)

By 2026, at least 55% of Canada's key fish stocks are in the Cautious and Healthy zone (Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard)

Indicator (i)

Status of key fish stocks

This indicator reports the status (Healthy, Cautious, Critical or Uncertain) of key fish stocks. Federal scientists use a variety of scientific methods to assess fish stock levels and assign them a stock status zone (Healthy, Cautious or Critical) by comparing the size of the stocks to reference points. If there is insufficient information to be able to determine which one of the 3 stock zones the stock is in, the status is uncertain. Stock status is an important element of the precautionary approach. Of the 180 key fish stocks assessed in 2020:

  • 56 stocks (31%) were in the Healthy zone
  • 23 stocks (13%) were in the Cautious zone
  • 23 stocks (13%) were in the Critical zone
  • 78 stocks (43%) could not be classified and have an uncertain status
Update: Status of key fish stocks (i)
  • Many of the new stocks added in recent years have an uncertain status
  • Of the 192 key fish stocks assessed in 2021: 
    • 66 stocks (34%) were in the Healthy zone 
    • 27 stocks (14%) were in the Cautious zone 
    • 22 stocks (11%) were in the Critical zone 
    • 77 stocks (40%) could not be classified and have an uncertain status

Source: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators, Status of key fish stocks, 2023

Short-term milestone: Regulate key fish stocks provisions (2)

By the end of 2025, set fish stocks in regulation, thus making them subject to the Fish Stocks Provisions in the recently amended Fisheries Act. By setting certain key stocks in regulation and making them subject to the Fish Stocks Provisions, there will be binding legal obligations to manage these stocks sustainably.

Short-term milestone: Manage Canadian aquaculture (2)

From the end of 2022 to the end of 2026, maintain 90% compliance with Fisheries Act regulations related to aquaculture.

Contextual indicator: Eelgrass in Canada (i)

This indicator tracks compiled information on the distribution of eelgrass sites in Canada, including historical observations. Eelgrass is a common seagrass species in Canadian coastal waters and has been described as an ecosystem engineer because it physically changes its environment, creating habitat and resources for other species. As of 2020, eelgrass was widespread on the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic (Hudson Bay) coasts of Canada. Most of the mapped eelgrass sites in James Bay (Hudson Bay) were in recovery following major declines.

Contextual indicator: Harvest levels of key fish stocks (i)

This indicator compares harvest levels with established harvest limits. These limits are based on the best available scientific evidence. This indicator classifies stocks based on 3 elements: stocks harvested at or below a removal reference (or level, for the stock based on an analytical assessment of historical stock productivity data), stocks harvested at or below an approved harvest level, and stocks harvested above a removal reference or approved harvest level. It is one measure of fishing pressure on wild fish stocks. Of the 180 key stocks assessed in 2020:

  • 177 stocks (98%) were harvested at or below a removal reference or an approved level
  • 3 stocks (2%) were harvested above an approved level

From 2012 to 2020, the percentage of stocks harvested above an approved harvest level or above a removal reference has been consistently low. By 2027, Canada aims to have all key fish and invertebrate stocks managed and harvested at levels considered sustainable.

Update(i)
Contextual Indicator: Harvest levels of key fish stocks
  • Of the 192 key stocks assessed in 2021: 
    • 183 stocks (95%) were harvested at or below a removal reference or an approved level 
    • 9 stocks (5%) were harvested above an approved level 
  • From 2012 to 2021, the percentage of stocks harvested above approved levels has been consistently low (below 5% of total stocks)

Source: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators, Harvest levels of key fish stocks, 2023

Contextual indicator: Shellfish harvest area quality (i)

This indicator tracks the proportion of harvest areas that is classified approved or conditionally approved, reflecting the quality and extent of bacterial contamination in marine coastal waters where shellfish are harvested. In 2018, 68% of Canada's classified shellfish harvest areas were classified as approved or conditionally approved for harvest for human consumption. This has remained relatively consistent since 2010.

Update
Contextual indicator: Shellfish harvest area quality  (i)

In 2021, the water in 65% of Canada's monitored shellfish harvest areas was classified as approved or conditionally approved. This proportion has declined slightly since 2010.

Source: ECCC Canadian Environmental lndicators, Shellfish harvest area water quality, 2023

Implementation strategies and departmental actions

Implementation strategies and departmental actions

Theme:  Ocean protection and conservation

Implementation strategy: Build knowledge of coastal and marine ecosystems and marine protected areas (1)

Build knowledge of coastal and marine ecosystems and marine protected areas through collaboration to further develop and sustain meaningful partnerships with provincial, territorial and Inuit and Indigenous governments, industry and local communities, to advance effective ocean planning, including science-based research and enable conservation activities.

Implementation strategy: Protect, manage, and restore marine and coastal areas (1)

Protect, manage, and restore marine and coastal areas through:

  • New site establishment to meet the 25% target by 2025 through new marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) drawing on existing legislation and regulations to protect coasts and oceans
  • Effective site management of existing MPAs and OECMs to ensure they achieve their conservation objectives in accordance with Canada's rights and jurisdiction under international law
  • Advancing marine spatial planning to help enable ambitious marine conservation objectives while also allowing for sustainable growth in our ocean sectors for a resilient blue economy
  • Implement activities under the renewed and expanded Oceans Protection Plan
  • Conduct sustained, coordinated and intensive aerial pollution surveillance over all waters under Canadian jurisdiction through the Aerial Surveillance Program
  • Engage in international advocacy to conserve the world's oceans
Implementation strategy: Reduce marine litter and support the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste (1)

Contribute to the implementation of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment's Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste. Build on the Ocean Plastics Charter by working with countries on the development of a new legally binding and effective global agreement on plastics and with international, provincial, territorial and regional partners to develop and implement approaches to manage and reduce marine litter in Canada, including fishing gear. Fill knowledge gaps on the contribution of sea-based activities to marine plastic litter.

Theme:  Ocean sustainability

Implementation strategy: Build knowledge to support sustainable fisheries (2)

Improve knowledge of fisheries resources, their productivity and factors affecting them to support sustainable fisheries management.

Implementation strategy: Implement policies for sustainable fisheries (2)

Implement policies that continue to support sustainable fisheries in Canada and support an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. This includes implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which provides part of the foundation for an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

Implementation strategy: Support sustainable aquaculture (2)

Support sustainable aquaculture research, management, and knowledge transfer. Conduct research on the environmental impact of aquaculture and facilitate industry contributions to climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability. Use legislation and regulations to ensure sustainable aquaculture practices.

Implementation strategy: Support the recovery and protection of Canada's endangered whales (2)

Limit threats to the North Atlantic right whale, Southern Resident killer whale, and St. Lawrence Estuary Beluga by implementing programs and measures that reduce risk of entanglement, protect vital food sources, minimize the impacts from vessels, including collisions and underwater noise, provide near real-time whale detection and surveillance, and decrease contaminant exposure.

Implementation strategy: Support the recovery and protection of Canada's marine ecosystem and wildlife (2)

Inform and strengthen protections for coasts and wildlife, which includes enhancing the protection and restoration of vulnerable marine ecosystems and wildlife.

Responsibilities and contributions of federal organizations

Responsibilities and contributions of federal organizations

1Target theme: Ocean protection and conservation
FSDS component Title Supports Goal and/or Target Responsible organization(s)
Target Conserve 25% of marine and coastal areas by 2025, and 30% by 2030, in support of the commitment to work to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 in Canada, and achieve a full recovery for nature by 2050 Supports the goal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in collaboration with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Milestone Establish new national marine conservation areas Supports the goal and the Marine Conservation Target Parks Canada
Milestone Further develop Canada’s Ghost Gear Program Supports the goal Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Implementation Strategy Build knowledge of coastal and marine ecosystems and marine protected areas Supports the goal and the Marine Conservation Target

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

National Research Council of Canada

Natural Resources Canada

Parks Canada

Transport Canada

Implementation Strategy Protect, manage, and restore marine and coastal areas Supports the goal and the Marine Conservation Target

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Natural Resources Canada

Parks Canada

Transport Canada

Implementation Strategy Reduce marine litter and support the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste Supports the goal

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Transport Canada

2Target theme: Ocean sustainability
FSDS component Title Supports Goal and/or Target Responsible organization(s)
Target By 2026, at least 55% of Canada’s key fish stocks are in the Cautious and Healthy zone Supports the goal Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard
Milestone Regulate key fish stocks provisions Supports the goal and the Sustainable Fisheries Target Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Milestone Manage Canadian aquaculture Supports the goal Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Implementation Strategy Build knowledge to support sustainable fisheries Supports the goal and the Sustainable Fisheries Target

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Implementation Strategy Implement policies for sustainable fisheries Supports the goal and the Sustainable Fisheries Target Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Implementation Strategy Support sustainable aquaculture Supports the goal Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Implementation Strategy Support the recovery and protection of Canada’s endangered whales Supports the goal

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Parks Canada

Transport Canada

Implementation Strategy Support the recovery and protection of Canada’s marine ecosystem and wildlife Supports the goal Environment and Climate Change Canada

Performance measurement

iIndicators supporting the goal and contextual indicators
Indicator type Target Indicator Source Update cycle
Target Conserve 25% of marine and coastal areas by 2025, and 30% by 2030, in support of the commitment to work to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030 in Canada, and achieve a full recovery for nature by 2050 Canada's conserved areas * CESI Annual
Target By 2026, at least 55% of Canada’s key fish stocks are in the Cautious and Healthy zone Status of key fish stocks CESI Annual
Contextual Eelgrass in Canada CESI Every 3 years
Harvest levels of key fish stocks * CESI Annual
Shellfish harvest area quality CESI Every 2 years

*Indicators that have also been included in the Canadian Indicator Framework.

For more detailed information see Strengthening transparency and accountability.

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