Fisheries and Oceans Canada closes the first and only known live coral reef in Pacific Canada to all commercial and recreational bottom-contact fisheries

News release

March 7, 2024

Vancouver, B.C. — Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), is taking measures to protect the unique and highly sensitive Lophelia Reef—also known by its Wakashan name q̓áuc̓íwísuxv—by closing all commercial and recreational bottom-contact fisheries, including midwater trawl, within this area. This indefinite closure came into effect on Wednesday, February 14, 2024.

Located in Finlayson Channel, northern B.C., the largely pristine cold-water live coral reef contains unique habitats, high biodiversity and biomass, and has cultural significance to the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Heiltsuk First Nations. Protecting Lophelia Reef aligns with DFO’s priorities of reconciliation and the protection of sensitive benthic areas. The closure demonstrates a robust protective measure by the Department based on a significant scientific discovery as this site, while small, is a globally unique reef that is highly susceptible to damage, most notably from fishing gear.

The Pacific Lophelia coral reef is identified within the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Area’s Network Action Plan, and is a proposed Parks Canada National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (NMCAR), which is currently in the feasibility assessment stage.

This Lophelia coral reef is the most northern reef known in the Pacific Ocean and was first discovered in 2021 and mapped in 2022, on joint surveys between DFO, the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation and the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance (CCIRA) on board the Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Vector. While the area is remote and not widely fished, there is evidence of physical damage to the living coral likely caused by bottom-contact fisheries. Expeditions like these are culturally and scientifically important and continue to contribute to our global understanding of the deep sea.

The Government of Canada is committed to safeguarding the health of our oceans for future generations. The protection of sensitive benthic habitats, such as cold-water corals and sponges, and the mitigation of fisheries-related risks to these habitats, is a priority under the DFO Sustainable Fisheries Framework. The Heiltsuk and Kitasoo Xai’xais Nations are partners in the Northern Shelf Bioregion initiatives and strongly support these closures.

Additional multimedia

Lophelia reef
The Lophelia reef has a cascading effect, enhancing the area's biodiversity. Here we see colourful Fuzzy Crabs (Acantholithodes hispidus) in three different species of glass sponges which are growing on the coral reef (orange and pink branches).


“Significant marine areas, such as the Lophelia coral reef, not only contribute to the health of our oceans, they are also vital to the fabric of our identity as Canadians. With the impacts of climate change evident around the world, the work to prevent biodiversity loss and protect marine ecosystems has become urgent. The Government of Canada is committed to working together with Indigenous and local communities, and with all levels of government, to conserve our shared waters and the unique creatures and habitats that exist within them for future generations."

The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“The strong collaboration between First Nations and the federal government, where Indigenous knowledge harmoniously intertwines with scientific methods, has unveiled a remarkable ecosystem. This partnership has not only safeguarded the unique, sensitive habitat of the Lophelia Reef, but has also paved the way for future, collaborative marine protection. Given the challenges posed by climate change and management uncertainties, we eagerly anticipate further cooperation with our crown partners through the MPA network action plan to preserve other ecologically and culturally significant regions.”

Douglas Neasloss, Chief Councilor, Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation

“Protection of the unique habitat of this Lophelia reef and all the life it supports aligns well with our Nation’s world view and laws; everything is connected and everything has a right to live in a healthy environment that supports healthy ecosystems and healthy populations that is free from unintended intrusion of destructive fishing practises.”

K̓áwáziɫ, Marilyn Slett, elected Chief Councillor, Heiltsuk Tribal Council

“The reef is an astonishing finding. ‘Coral reef’ joins sea wolves, spirit bears, sea lions, and herring as the newest addition to the diversity of wildlife found within the famous waterways of the Great Bear Rainforest. This hidden hotspot is like a tropical coral reef but in the dark. When we “turn on the lights” we see mounds and valleys, crabs, octopus, schools of fish, and more. One other remarkable aspect; the long margins of coral reef touching and coexisting with glass sponge reefs. Since this is the only coral reef known to occur in Pacific Canada and glass sponge reefs only happen here, these margins may be the only place on Earth where this incredible interspecies relationship exists.”

Dr. Cherisse Du Preez, Head of the Deep-Sea Ecology Program with Fisheries and Oceans Canada; Adjunct Professor, University of Victoria; lead of the Northeast Pacific Deep-sea Exploration Project (NEPDEP), a United Nations Ocean Decade Action

Quick facts

  • Lophelia corals build habitats that provide nurseries, refuge, and feeding grounds for marine wildlife, enhancing local biological diversity and abundance. This area can act as a natural refuge area that may contribute to increased species productivity, which in turn, could potentially lead to increased abundance within and adjacent to the area.

  • Reefs are ecosystem engineers; their biological structures shape the surrounding environment, for example, altering water currents on the ocean floor, enhancing food availability, and creating new habitat spaces for other organisms.

  • Prohibiting bottom-contact gear protects the corals, as well as the diverse community of fish and other invertebrates that live in the complex structural habitats the coral creates (e.g., tall mounds and caves, intricate networks of branches, the ancient buried reef on top of which the present-day reef thrives).

  • The reef in B.C. is the only known healthy Lophelia coral reef in all of Canada. Protection from further physical damage is particularly important because this coral species is under threat from climate change.

  • Only one other Lophelia reef is known to occur in Canadian waters, and is found in Atlantic Canada. A Coral Conservation Area was established around it to support its recovery from significant historic damage.

  • In collaboration with First Nations, DFO is implementing closures in alignment with our mandate respecting reconciliation, for protection of Sensitive Benthic Areas, and in support of both the Network Action Plan and the NMCAR process, which is being co-led by Parks Canada, the province of B.C., and six First Nations.

  • Feedback was sought from First Nations, commercial and recreational fishing sectors in Fall 2023 on potential fishing closures at this site, and incorporated into the decision for protections.

  • A scientific publication describing the Lophelia pertusa (also known as Desmophyllum pertusum) reef is near completion—the research is based on remotely operated vehicle (ROV) visual surveys, acoustic maps, and biological, coring and water samples. The co-authors are from DFO, CCIRA, Natural Resources Canada, the University of Victoria, and the University of British Columbia. Other remarkable findings related to the reef include:

    • the surprising relationship between the coral reef and glass sponge reefs, where the coral appears to be supporting the growth of glass sponge reefs, and
    • the numerous dead coral reefs were found in less optimal conditions in the same region as the healthy reef, reaffirming the uniqueness and vulnerability of the pristine reef. 

Associated links


Media Relations, Pacific Region
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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