Backgrounder: New standards to protect Canada's oceans
Last year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada appointed an independent National Advisory Panel to consult with Canadians about marine protection standards. Following extensive consultations across the country, the Panel delivered its report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, on September 26, 2018. Based on the recommendations by the Panel, the Government of Canada has adopted a new approach to marine conservation, including protection standards to strengthen the conservation of our oceans.
As part of this approach, the Government of Canada will continue to grow and evolve marine conservation networks across Canada. These networks will be made up of two distinct forms of protection - marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area based conservation measures, including marine refuges. Canada’s MPAs will now function similar to our national parks, providing a high level of environmental protection by including new standards that prohibit four key industrial activities: oil and gas activities, mining, dumping and bottom trawling. With respect to other effective area based conservation measures, including marine refuges, activities within these areas will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and will be allowed if they are consistent with the conservation objectives of the specific area. Both of these standards are in accordance with the National Advisory Panel’s recommendations, as well as with international guidance.
This is a balanced approach that will provide high levels of environmental protection, while also recognizing and allowing for economic activities that are not harmful to sensitive areas of our oceans to continue to take place. The new standards also provide enhanced clarity and certainty for fish harvesters and other industry stakeholders.
Marine Protected Areas
MPAs are parts of the ocean that legally protect a range of species, habitats and features from the impacts of a variety of activities, including fishing. Based on the Panel’s recommendations, the new protection standard for MPAs will prohibit four industrial activities in all new federal MPAs: oil and gas activities; mining; dumping; and bottom trawling.
- The prohibition on bottom trawling applies to mobile bottom-contacting gear used for commercial and recreational purposes, including otter trawls, beam trawls, shrimp trawls, hydraulic clam dredges, and scallop dredges.
- All other activities, including fishing that does not use bottom-contacting gear, will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure they do not pose a risk to the conservation objectives of the MPA.
- Bottom-contacting gear for Indigenous food, social, and ceremonial purposes and for scientific research purposes will be allowed within MPA where it does not pose a significant risk to the MPA’s conservation objectives.
Scope of application
To help conserve and protect marine biodiversity the new protection standard will be applied to all federal MPAs, including:
- Oceans Act MPAs established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada;
- National Marine Conservation Areas established by Parks Canada;
- Marine National Wildlife Areas; and
- Marine portions of National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries established by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Addressing prohibited activities in existing MPAs and impacts on our marine conservation target
In the short term, existing MPAs where there are oil and gas licences or where bottom trawling is currently authorized will continue to count towards our international marine conservation target. Canada’s MPAs are developed in close collaboration with partners and stakeholders and further analysis and consultation is required before making any significant changes to the management of existing MPAs. Therefore, all existing MPAs will be reviewed as part of their regular management review cycle.
In the case of an existing MPA overlapping with an area where there is an oil and gas licence or permit, as part of that MPA’s regular management review cycle, we will work with our partners to consider adopting the new protection standard within the MPA. If an agreement is reached, the regulations for the MPA will be amended to prohibit oil and gas activity. If an agreement cannot be achieved, the MPA boundaries will remain unchanged but the area overlapping with the licence or permit area would no longer be counted towards Canada’s marine conservation targets.
For areas where bottom-contacting gear is currently authorized, we will re-evaluate the activity to determine if it is consistent with the specific MPA’s conservation objectives. If it is not, the MPA regulations will be amended following consultation with partners and stakeholders.
Marine refuges are another tool we use to conserve our oceans. They offer more targeted protection to species and their habitat from the impacts of fishing. As part of the Panel’s recommendations, the Government of Canada has adopted a new protection standard for other effective area based conservation measures, including marine refuges.
This standard will assess all activities on a case-by-case basis. Some activities will be allowed if they are consistent with the conservation objectives of a specific area. Before any proposed activity can take place, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard will need to be satisfied that any risks to the area have been avoided or mitigated effectively.
Impacts on our marine conservation target
Going forward, if there are oil and gas licenses or permits authorized in a marine refuge but no extraction is taking place, the overlap area will continue to count toward our marine conservation target. Once oil and gas extraction begins, the overlap area will no longer count toward our target.
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