Backgrounder: Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has designated the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area (MPA) to help safeguard the area’s unique marine environment. The establishment of this new MPA is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to conserving 10% of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.
This Laurentian Channel MPA represents an additional 11,580 km2 of protected ocean space off the southwest coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, which contributes approximately 0.2% to Canada’s marine conservation target. This makes the Laurentian Channel the largest MPA under the Oceans Act to date. The Laurentian Channel has many sensitive seafloor habitats, including areas with some of the highest concentrations of corals known as sea pens within the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador. The area provides important habitat to a variety of marine species, including a large population of black dogfish and juvenile smooth skate, as well as two species at risk, the Northern wolffish and the Leatherback sea turtle. Porbeagle sharks seasonally move into and reside within the MPA, and the MPA encompasses one of only two known porbeagle shark mating grounds in the Northwest Atlantic. The Laurentian Channel MPA also includes important feeding grounds and migration routes into and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At least 20 species of cetaceans have been observed in the area as well, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The primary objective of the Laurentian Channel MPA is to conserve biodiversity through the protection of key species and their habitats, ecosystem structure and function, and scientific research. The MPA Regulations aim to protect biodiversity in the Laurentian Channel by reducing risk and harm posed by human activities to aquatic species and habitats in the area. The designation of the Laurentian Channel MPA will also protect fish and their habitat within the designated area, which may help to replenish depleted fish stocks. Fish populations that increase in the MPA may spill over into surrounding areas, where fishing can continue.
The establishment of the Laurentian Channel MPA was also part of the negotiations between the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador surrounding the Atlantic Accord. Both governments agreed to restrict oil and gas activities within the boundaries of the Laurentian Channel MPA. They also agreed to work together to plan the use of the offshore area to develop oil and gas resources and protect marine biodiversity.
Details of Allowed and Prohibited Activities
The Laurentian Channel MPA is the first MPA that applies Canada’s new protection standards. Therefore, oil and gas activities, including seismic surveys, as well as mining, dumping, and bottom trawling are prohibited in the entirety of the area. The MPA is also the first to prohibit all commercial and recreational fishing throughout the designated area. The Regulations establish two management zones that provide varying levels of protection in the MPA, offering the most stringent protection to areas that need it most. Together these zones will conserve and protect the biological diversity and productivity of the Laurentian Channel MPA. In the Core Protection Zone, the only activities allowed are those for public safety and national security; Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial fisheries; and marine navigation activities, except for anchoring. In the Adaptive Management Zone, activities other such as anchoring, submarine cable installation, and scientific research may be permitted if they do not impact the conservation objectives of the MPA.
Designating a Marine Protected Area
The area was initially identified as ecologically and biologically significant through a peer-reviewed science process led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and was selected for protection in 2010 following extensive public consultation. Knowledge of the area was then further refined through ecological assessments, consideration of traditional and local knowledge, consultation, and socio-economic analysis. An advisory committee composed of representatives from industry, academia, environmental groups, provincial and federal governments, and Indigenous organizations participated in the development of the conservation objectives, management measures, and the delineation of the MPA boundaries and zones. Through the Advisory Committee, all stakeholders and Indigenous partners will continue to have direct involvement in the ongoing management of the area.
The Regulations to establish the Laurentian Channel MPA were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on June 24, 2017, launching a 30-day public consultation period. More than 70, 000 comments received during that period, along with new scientific information and the recommendations from the National Advisory Panel on MPA Standards were taken into consideration when drafting the final regulations for the area.
Committed to Marine Protected Areas and Our Oceans
This new MPA demonstrates the Government of Canada’s commitment to increasing environmental protection of Canada’s oceans. Budget 2016 included $123.7 million over five years to support marine conservation activities, including the designation of new MPAs under the Oceans Act and continuing work on developing conservation networks across Canada.
Through this investment, the Government of Canada has worked with numerous partners to increase protection of Canada’s oceans to 5% in 2017. We reached this achievement in October 2017 and continue to work with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, and environmental and industry stakeholders to reach our 10% commitment by 2020.
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