Protection Standard for Canada’s Marine Protected Areas


Protected Areas (MPAs). The protection standard prohibited oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling in all federal MPAs established after April 25, 2019. Following the Government’s announcement, the Federal MPA Marine Protection Standard Task Group was established to develop the detailed scope of the four categories of activities subject to the Protection Standard.

The 2023 MPA Protection Standard will provide greater consistency and clarity on activities subject to the standard in federal MPAs for partners, stakeholders, and the public. These concrete and predictable measures are part of a balanced approach that will provide high levels of environmental protection.

Marine Protected Areas

A Marine Protected Area, commonly called an MPA, is part of the ocean that is legally protected and managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature.

What is Prohibited

The MPA Protection Standard applies a whole-of-government approach and prohibits:

  • Oil and gas exploration, development and production;
  • Mineral exploration and exploitation;
  • Disposal of waste and other matter, dumping of fill, and deposit of deleterious drugs and pesticides; and
  • Mobile, bottom contact, trawl or dredge gear. Trap-based fisheries are excluded.

The MPA Protection Standard provides a federal baseline of a common set of activities that are prohibited or further restricted. The Standard only applies to activities occurring within MPA boundaries. Further prohibitions may apply according to MPA regulations and law.

To further strengthen the MPA Protection Standard, the Government of Canada is also announcing its intent to enhance restrictions on certain vessel discharges within MPAs. These discharges include sewage (blackwater), greywater, oily engine room bilge, exhaust gas cleaning systems (scrubbers), washwater, and food waste. These will be achieved through a combination of measures for MPAs in Canada’s territorial waters and Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Consultations with stakeholders to determine the extent of the enhanced restrictions will begin in spring 2023 and regulatory amendments in support of the standard are expected to be completed by 2025 or 2026.

How it will be applied

The MPA Protection Standard will apply to new federal MPAs, including:

  • Oceans Act MPAs established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO);
  • National marine conservation areas and marine components of national parks established by Parks Canada under the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act and Canada National Parks Act respectively; and
  • Marine National Wildlife Areas, and marine portions of National Wildlife Areas and Migratory Bird Sanctuaries established by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) under the Canada Wildlife Act.
  • There are four situations where the new Standard will not apply:
  • The MPA Protection Standard will not apply to MPAs established using mirror federal and provincial or territorial laws or joint law(s) uniquely developed for a single MPA.
  • Where MPAs are established using both a federal law and a separate but complementary provincial or territorial law, the determination of whether or not to apply the MPA Protection Standard will be made on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with existing intergovernmental collaborative agreements.
  • The MPA Protection Standard will not apply to MPAs established in the Great Lakes. The Panel’s work and recommendations did not include consideration of MPAs in this area.
  • The MPA Protection Standard will not apply to MPAs established by Oceans Act Ministerial Order or Oceans Act emergency Order-in-Council. These legal instruments are not designed in a manner that would support application of the protection standard.

These four situations do not mean that the prohibited activities will take place in these MPAs. Activities may be prohibited or restricted according to individual protected area laws and other marine laws.

General Exceptions

The protection standard would not apply to any activity conducted for the following reasons:

  • public and vessel safety,
  • national defence,
  • national security,
  • law enforcement,
  • responding to an emergency,
  • Aboriginal and treaty rights,
  • in adherence to international law, or
  • any other matter the Minister deems necessary for the purpose of implementing the MPA Protection Standard.

How it will apply for existing MPAs (established prior to April 25, 2019)

The protection standard will be applied as follows for all existing MPAs established prior to April 25, 2019:

  • Existing MPAs will be reviewed to seek the voluntary relinquishment of any existing oil and gas permits or licences, where they exist. Should permits or licences not be relinquished in these areas, the portion of the MPA that overlaps with the licence area would no longer contribute to Canada’s marine conservation targets.
  • Mineral exploration and exploitation does not currently occur in existing MPAs.
  • Permits will not be issued for the disposal at sea of waste and other matter in existing MPAs.
  • Permits will not be issued for the dumping of fill in existing MPAs.
  • Deposit of deleterious drugs and pesticides will continue to be prohibited in existing MPAs.
  • Any enhanced restrictions on vessel discharges in the Territorial Sea up to 12 nautical miles may apply to current MPAs, and voluntary restrictions may be pursued in current MPAs in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), where possible.
  • Existing MPAs will be reviewed as part of their ongoing management cycle to determine the compatibility of mobile bottom contact -trawl and dredge gear with the MPA’s (conservation) objectives. Where this gear is determined to be incompatible, its use would be prohibited.

Page details

Date modified: