The Scott Islands: a proposed marine national wildlife area
The Government of Canada is committed to designating the marine area around the Scott Islands as a protected marine area under the Canada Wildlife Act. The proposed Regulations and Notice of Intent to designate the marine National Wildlife Area (NWA) were published in Canada Gazette Part I on December 31, 2016 for a 30 day public comment period.
The Scott Islands and surrounding waters together make up one of the most productive and biologically diverse marine ecosystems, particularly for seabirds, on the Canadian Pacific Coast. The Scott Islands support the highest concentration of breeding seabirds in the Canadian Pacific, and are the site of the most intensive seabird research in Canada. The area is an internationally recognized Important Bird Area, hosting over one million nesting seabirds annually, and providing important ecological breeding and nesting habitat for 40% of BC’s seabirds, including 90% of Canada’s Tufted Puffins, 95% of Pacific Canada’s Common Murre, 50% of the world’s Cassin's Auklets, and 7% of the global population of Rhinoceros Auklet.
The ocean waters provide a key foraging area for the birds that nest on the Islands. The waters attract 5-10 million migratory birds annually that may travel vast distances across the Pacific to feed on the abundance of small fish and zooplankton in the area. Several of these species, such as the Black-footed Albatross (near-threatened) and the Sooty Shearwater (near-threatened), have been identified as being at risk globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Other birds that are listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act include the Short-tailed Albatross (threatened) and the Pink-footed Shearwater (threatened). The Marbled Murrelet (threatened) and the ancient Murrelet (special concern), which nest elsewhere in British Columbia, can also be found in these waters.
In addition to its importance for seabirds, the marine area around the Scott Islands has also been identified as an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area by Fisheries and Oceans Canada due to the high marine productivity and diversity of marine mammals and fish species present, and contains important habitat for several marine mammal species at risk
The recommended boundary takes into consideration that additional areas important for seabirds and other marine wildlife may be protected as part of marine protected area (MPA) network planning in the region. The boundary encompasses the habitat necessary to achieve the conservation objective of the proposed marine NWA, and reflects a balance between the conservation, social, cultural and economic values of the area. Priority areas considered for inclusion in the proposed marine NWA include areas used by seabirds that breed on the Scott Islands (determined over 20 years of observations at sea), areas used by species having high conservation significance, and known seabird foraging habitat. Seabird distribution data for Cassin’s Auklet (1999-2001), Rhinoceros Auklet (2002), and Common Murre (2006-2007), and almost 20 years (1991 - 2010) of at-sea survey data for Cassin’s Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, Glaucous-winged Gull, Leach’s Storm Petrel, and Fork-tailed Storm Petrel were used in the analysis to determine the boundary of the proposed marine NWA, in addition to physical habitat and oceanographic data. It encompasses approximately 11,546 km² of an exclusively marine area that does not include the terrestrial portions of the Scott Islands, which are provincial protected areas.
The Scott Islands marine NWA will complement existing provincial protected area designations for the five islands that make up the Scott Islands archipelago. Lanz and Cox Islands are closest to Vancouver Island shores and were designated as a Class A Provincial Park in 1995. Lanz and Cox Islands are not currently seabird nesting islands. The outer three islands of Sartine, Beresford, and Triangle became provincial Ecological Reserves in 1971. Only scientific research and educational uses are allowed on these Ecological Reserves, and require a provincial permit. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has also designated a Rockfish conservation area in the waters around Cox, Lanz, Beresford and Sartine islands and is proposing to establish the Hecate Strait/Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (MPA). The southern portion of this proposed MPA is adjacent to the northern boundary of the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA.
Tufted Puffin, Scott Islands, British Columbia.
The Scott Islands marine NWA proposal has been developed in consultation with a Steering Committee and stakeholder Advisory Group, established in 2010. The Steering Committee includes representatives from other federal departments (Fisheries and Oceans, Transport, Natural Resources), the Province of British Columbia, Quatsino First Nation and Tlatasikwala First Nation. The stakeholder Advisory Group includes representatives from local and regional governments, commercial fishing, marine transportation and shipping, non-renewable energy, marine conservation, sport fishing and marine tourism.
The Steering Committee and Advisory Group have held numerous meetings and calls over the last five years which have resulted in a common foundation of understanding about the rationale for the marine NWA, the vision and conservation goals, the planning process, terms of reference for the operation of both bodies, and on the recommended boundary.
A Management Plan for the Scott Islands marine NWA is being developed by Environment and Climate Change Canada in collaboration with federal, provincial and First Nations partners, and interested stakeholders. The plan includes a vision and conservation goals with specific objectives for the marine NWA to guide management of the area and research priorities to mitigate and monitor human impacts. The plan will provide for ongoing protection and adaptive management of the area.
Management of the Scott Islands marine NWA will be led by Environment and Climate Change Canada and coordinated with other federal departments who have responsibilities for marine activities and associated resources in the area, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, and Natural Resources Canada. The marine NWA will also be managed in collaboration with the Province of British Columbia, Tlatlasikwala First Nation, and Quatsino First Nation to ensure complementarity and effective coordination of conservation measures that will benefit the marine and terrestrial Scott Islands ecosystem.
Long description for the Map
Map showing an area off of the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The boundaries of Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area are indicated. The marine National Wildlife Area follows a portion of the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island and extends out into the Pacific Ocean, covering the waters surrounding Triangle Island, Sartine Island, Beresford Island, Lanz Island and Cox Island. The scale on the map is in tens of kilometers and bathymetry is indicated in the legend in meters.
This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries. Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area can also be viewed using Google Maps. Please note that the Google map is a complementary source of information and does not represent the official map or site name.
What is a marine National Wildlife Area?
A marine National Wildlife Area (NWA) is protected marine area, designated under the Canada Wildlife Act to protect and conserve wildlife and its habitats, for the long-term. For a place to be considered for designation as a NWA, a number of criteria is considered, such as whether the area supports a nationally significant number of migratory birds, or species at risk, critical habitat for species at risk, or represents a rare or unusual habitat or region within Canada.
A marine NWA is a type of marine protected area. A marine protected area is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” Marine protected areas are internationally recognized as important marine conservation tools to safeguard the health of our oceans and marine ecosystems. They are known to be effective in protecting marine species and their habitats by improving the resilience of marine ecosystems.
Canada's federal marine protected areas network is comprised of three core programs:
- Marine National Wildlife Areas established under the Canada Wildlife Act and managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada to protect and conserve habitat for a variety of wildlife including migratory birds and endangered species for the purposes of conservation, research and interpretation;
- Marine Protected Areas established under the Oceans Act and managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to protect and conserve important fish and marine mammal habitats, endangered marine species, unique features, and areas of high biological productivity or biodiversity; and
- National Marine Conservation Areas established under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and managed by Parks Canada to protect and conserve representative examples of Canada's marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the public.
Why are new regulations being proposed for this marine NWA?
New regulations are being proposed for the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA in recognition of the specific conservation and management needs of this unique area. Also, part of the marine NWA is located in the Exclusive Economic Zone where the Wildlife Area Regulations under which existing National Wildlife Areas have been established does not apply. The Wildlife Area Regulations requires that the area be “public lands” which by definition does not include the Exclusive Economic Zone.
How will the proposed regulations for the Scott Islands marine NWA help protect biodiversity?
The Regulations propose to prohibit disturbing, damaging, destroying or removing wildlife or wildlife habitat; dumping or discharging waste material; flying over the area below 1,100 metres and being within 300 metres of Triangle, Sartine or Beresford Islands. The proposed Regulations do not prohibit commercial fishing in general but do prohibit fishing of the forage species important for migratory birds: Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury and North Pacific krill. The proposed prohibitions on fishing of these three species will benefit many marine species that feed on them. The prohibition against approaching within 300 meters will limit disturbance to seabird nesting colonies on Triangle, Sartine and Beresford Islands, as well as the colony of Stellar Sea Lions on Triangle Island. In addition, the proposed Regulations will prohibit the anchoring of a vessel of more than 400 gross tonnes within one nautical mile of the Triangle, Sartine or Beresford Islands
All of these prohibited activities could be allowed by a permit issued by the Minister of the Environment. In applying for a permit, applicants will have to demonstrate that the possible adverse effects of the proposed activity would not compromise the conservation of any wildlife species or wildlife habitat in the area.
The creation of the Scott Islands marine NWA will enable effective long-term conservation of seabirds and other marine species by bringing a collaborative focus on monitoring, research and surveillance in order to meet the conservation objective for the area - to conserve migratory seabirds, species at risk, and the habitats, ecosystem linkages and marine resources that support these species.
What types of activities are currently occurring in the area proposed as the Scott Islands marine NWA?
The Tlatlasikwala First Nation and Quatsino First Nation have long used the various seasonally available resources in the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA for food, social and ceremonial purposes. The two primary commercial activities in the area are fishing and shipping. There are various fisheries that currently operate in the area, including long line, trap and ground trawl. With respect to shipping, cruise ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers, tugs, barges, and fishing vessels all use the area. There is also some recreational fishing, boating and tourism in the area but most of it occurs close to Vancouver Island due to the remote location and often unpredictable waters around the Scott Islands.
The Regulations proposes protection measures to address the risks associated with the current types and levels of activities that occur in the proposed Scott islands marine NWA, as well as future ones. Other conservation measures may be used through other legislative and management tools to help mitigate these risks.
What is currently known about seabird bycatch in the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA and what is being done to address it?
Seabirds can be caught and killed in many different kinds of fisheries and fishing gear, including in longlines, trawls and fishing nets. An analysis of fisheries related risks to seabirds within the marine NWA found reported bycatch of seabirds exclusively in the groundfish hook and line longline fisheries. Studies show it may be underestimated. Additional bycatch monitoring and improved reporting is required to fully understand the consequences to seabird populations in the area.
A total of 36 birds were reported in logbooks as bycatch between 2007 and 2013, which included 16 albatrosses (three of which were identified to species), eight gulls and 12 unknown birds. A reporting compliance evaluation was also done, and suggested that longline logbook records are underestimating seabird bycatch by as much as 85%, which if extrapolated would produce an estimated 238 birds caught as bycatch in the proposed marine NWA between 2007 and 2013. While ongoing monitoring of the impacts of bycatch will continue, the current impacts are not significant from an ecological perspective given the size of the seabird populations in the area.
Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are working together to share and analyze data on seabird bycatch within fisheries and implement conservation measures to help better evaluate seabird bycatch impact and to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds. In the proposed marine NWA, ECCC will work with Fisheries and Oceans to address information gaps and research needs with respect to fisheries and seabird interactions in the area, and to monitor and improve current fishing practices, in collaboration with the fishing sector.
Why are the proposed regulations not prohibiting fishing and shipping in the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA?
Research and analysis conducted to date by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has found that current fishing and shipping activities in the area, when carried out in accordance with existing legal requirements, do not have significant adverse environmental effects, and are therefore compatible with the conservation objectives of the area. ECCC will continue to work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada to monitor fishing and shipping activity in the area, and will work collaboratively to implement additional conservation measures where necessary.
Although there are no current fisheries in the Area for any of the forage species that seabirds depend on, the proposed Regulations prohibit fishing of three key forage species - Pacific sand lance, Pacific saury, and North Pacific krill - without permits. Fishing activities that target these three key seabird forage species are prohibited, without a permit from the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, in the proposed marine NWA to ensure availability of prey to seabirds and other marine species in the future. Other species that are found to be an important source of food for the birds may be added to the list in the future through amendments to the Regulations if necessary and included in future versions of the Scott Islands management plan and Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plans.
Will the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA include no-take zones?
Current scientific evidence suggests that no-take areas that prohibit all commercial and recreational fishing are not necessary to meet the conservation objective for the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has not precluded stricter conservation measures in the future, but wants to ensure such restrictions are supported by science and considered in the broader context of marine protected area network planning on the Pacific coast.
The intent of the proposed regulations is not to prohibit all human use, but to balance marine conservation with sustainable use of the Area so as to maximize environmental and socio-economic benefits. An adaptive management approach will be used to monitor existing and proposed new activities in the Area and to periodically update the management plan and management activities. ECCC recognizes that future changes may be necessary with time in response to new research findings.
Will the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA be open to future non-renewable energy exploration and development?
There is currently no oil and gas activity in the proposed Scott Islands marine NWA due to the federal and provincial moratoria on offshore oil and gas exploration and development in the Pacific offshore. If the moratoria were to be lifted, permit and licence holders could exercise the rights conferred in their permits and licences, subject to the required authorizations from the Minister of Natural Resources and/or the National Energy Board, as well as authorization from the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. Environment and Climate Change Canada would consider a permit application based on the proposed regulatory requirements and in the context of the management plan for the Area in order to assess the extent to which the conservation or protection of wildlife or wildlife habitat would be impacted, and whether such impacts could be mitigated or avoided. Renewable energy activities would also follow a similar permitting process.
Why is there a delay in establishing the Scott Islands marine NWA?
Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began consulting on a proposal to establish the Scott Islands marine NWA in 2009. Subsequently, a Steering Committee and stakeholder Advisory Group were established in 2010 to provide input to the establishment process. Since then, there has been significant meaningful consultation and engagement with the many partners, Indigenous peoples, and stakeholders affected or interested in the area. CWS has worked hard over the last several years so that the establishment of the Scott Islands marine NWA is based on the best available scientific information and balances the conservation of the area with the social, cultural and economic concerns and needs of partners, Indigenous peoples, and interested stakeholders.
The proposed Scott Islands marine NWA will be the first marine NWA in Canada created under the Canada Wildlife Act. That said, the Department already protects marine habitat through its existing network of protected areas. The boundaries of many Migratory Bird Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Areas extend into the marine environment. As a result, Environment and Climate Change Canada protects almost 2 million hectares of marine habitat. Creating a new set of regulations for this proposed marine NWA is necessary because of the specific marine conservation and management needs of the area.
- Regulatory Strategy for the Designation of the Proposed Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area (PDF; 141 KB)
- Canadian Geographic June 2013 article, “Birds of the Scott Islands” by Sarah Hewitt
- Scott Islands: A Proposed Marine National Wildlife Area video
Environment and Climate Change Canada
Canadian Wildlife Service - Pacific Region
Protected Areas Unit
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Delta, British Columbia
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