Backgrounder – Government of Canada protects sensitive species and habitats off Nova Scotia


Map showing outline of Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge
Map of the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge (ECMR). The red solid line represents the boundary. The red dashed box represents a bottom longline fishing zone, which is required to have 100 per cent At-Sea Observer coverage in order to operate in the zone. The green boundary represents the Gully Marine Protected Area to the west and light blue boundary represents the Lophelia Coral Conservation Area to the east, which will be absorbed into the Marne Refuge at site establishment. The final site extends along the Eastern Scotian Shelf shelf-break and offshore to Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge to help safeguard the area’s unique marine environment. The establishment of this new Marine Refuge is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. This work is supported by almost $1 billion under Budget 2021 to protect the health of Canada’s oceans.

The Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge contributes approximately 0.76% to Canada’s marine conservation targets. With the establishment of this new marine refuge, Canada has now protected approximately 842,821 km2 of marine and coastal areas – a total of 14.66 per cent.

Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge

The Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge is located in the deep waters off the Eastern Scotian Shelf, approximately 70 km east of Sable Island. The Marine Refuge is approximately 44,000 km2 in size and is adjacent to the Gully Marine Protected Area.

The Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge was identified based on scientific evidence and marine industry knowledge confirming the presence of dense concentrations and suitable habitat of cold-water corals in the canyons, along the shelf edge, and into deeper waters off the Eastern Scotian Shelf. Cold-water corals are long-lived species forming important habitats that support a diversity of marine life. They are vulnerable to impacts from a variety of marine activities, including bottom contact fisheries, such as trawls, traps, and longlines. Additional protection of cold-water corals help support productive and healthy fisheries resources, including valuable fishery species, such as Atlantic halibut and redfish.

The Eastern Canyons area was identified through the marine conservation network planning process for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy bioregion. This is a process that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is leading to identify areas for potential future conservation in waters of the Scotian Shelf, Bay of Fundy, and Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. The overall objectives of the marine conservation network are to:

  • protect unique, rare, or sensitive ecological features;
  • protect representative examples of identified ecosystem and habitat types;
  • help maintain ecosystem structure, functioning, and resilience ; contribute to the recovery and conservation of depleted species; and
  • help maintain healthy populations of species of Indigenous, commercial, and/or recreational importance.

As part of this ongoing work, Eastern Canyons was announced in 2018 as a proposed Marine Refuge under the Fisheries Act to help protect sensitive bottom species and habitats, including regionally significant cold-water coral concentrations and habitats and a large deep-sea frontier area.  All commercial and communal commercial bottom-contact fisheries will now be prohibited from operating in the Marine Refuge, with the exception of a bottom longline fishing zone that will have 100% At-Sea Observer coverage in order to operate within it.

Beginning in 2020, DFO engaged the Province of Nova Scotia, Indigenous organizations and local First Nations communities, fishing industry stakeholders, and environmental non-government organizations on the design of the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge. This collaborative process was guided by available science and knowledge of communal commercial and commercial bottom contact fisheries operating within the area, with the aim of minimizing impacts of site establishment on active fisheries while upholding the conservation goals for the area.

To protect the vulnerable species and habitats, and to foster connectivity among the shelf, slope, and abyssal plain ecosystems, the protections of the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge will extend into the deep-water out to edge of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone. This deep-water portion of the site is referred to as a ‘frontier’ area, which is defined as an area without a history of fishing, under the DFO Sensitive Benthic Areas policy. This frontier area includes waters deeper than 2000 m and is representative of an under-studied and largely undiscovered deep-water ecosystem in Eastern Canada, which is an important element of the bioregional marine conservation network.

Ongoing management of the Eastern Canyons Marine Refuge will include surveillance of marine activities, scientific surveys and monitoring, development of a site management plan, as well as working with all regulators to address future threats to conservation features.  

June 2022

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