Bottom trawling should be on the list of prohibited industrial activities in marine protected areas (MPAs), says the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards in its final report and recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
The seven-member panel, established last spring, makes 13 recommendations to the minister that focus on minimum protection standards in federal marine protected areas, including Oceans Act marine protected areas and marine refuges established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Marine Conservation Areas established by Parks Canada and National Wildlife Areas established by Environment and Climate Change Canada.
It also makes recommendations on better engagement, stronger governance and robust MPA planning, on the emerging concept of Indigenous Protected Areas and on marine spatial planning.
Currently, the nature of the activities allowed or prohibited within each federally regulated MPA depends on the regulatory tool and authorities used to create the MPA.
The panel is recommending “That the government adopt International Union for the Conservation of Nature standards and guidelines for all marine protected areas, therefore prohibiting industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping and bottom trawling.”
The panel further recommends that if industrial activities are allowed to occur in areas Canada counts as “other effective area-based conservation measures,” that the Minister of Fisheries must be satisfied that any risks to important biodiversity values in these areas are avoided or mitigated.
“Minimum protection standards may improve marine protected area effectiveness and support Canada’s international leadership in the protection of our oceans,” said panel co-chair Rémi Bujold in a press release.
“Adoption of our recommendations would enable Canada’s marine protected areas to meet the highest international standards in ocean management, while allowing the regional flexibility necessary for essential economic activities to continue to occur within OECMs.”
The panel makes a suite of recommendations on improving the process of MPA establishment and management that are focused on meaningful engagement and involvement of coastal communities and stakeholders at all stages of the process. The panel further recommends transparency and encourages the government to report on details to support MPA effectiveness through an online database.
Fundamental to all of the panel recommendations is the concept of enhanced Crown-Indigenous relations.
The panel recommends that Indigenous peoples be treated as full and equal partners in marine conservation and makes bold new recommendations for the recognition of Indigenous protected areas in law, permanent and long-term funding of those areas and enhanced education and capacity for Indigenous peoples through innovative partnerships and coastal guardian and stewardship programs.
“Indigenous protected areas present a very important way forward for the future of Indigenous peoples in Canada,” said panel co-chair Mary Simon.
“This exciting new concept provides Canada with an opportunity to focus on the needs, realities and deep opportunities of ocean-dependent communities when planning the future of our oceans. Indigenous peoples add tremendous value to the broader marine conservation landscape, and risk more when marine areas are compromised. They must be given a place at the table as Canada works towards its marine conservation target.”
The panel heard from over 125 individuals from meetings in seven locations across the country, as well as through online written submissions.
“Through our process and hearings, we have heard that there is a need for flexibility in Canada’s approach to marine conservation beyond protected area boundaries. The concept of marine spatial planning was not included in our terms of reference, but we believe that this is an avenue that merits further attention. Therefore, we recommend that the federal government consult with Canadians on potential approaches to marine spatial planning in each of Canada’s ocean regions.”
The panel’s recommendations are getting the thumbs up from the Ecology Action Centre (EAC).
“We applaud the panel for clearly and strongly stating that these harmful extractive industries have no place in MPAs”, says Jordy Thomson, EAC Marine Science and Conservation Coordinator.
“Overall, we were pleased with the panel’s recommendations.”
However, the panel left the window open for industrial enterprises in other types of managed areas in the oceans, such as marine reserves, cautions Thomson.
“This is a concern because many of these areas were established to protect sensitive sea-bottom habitats and foundation species like cold-water corals and sponges, which can be damaged for long periods of time. It makes no sense to consider allowing oil and gas in these sites.”
As a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada has committed to protecting 10 per cent of coastal and marine habitats by 2020.
“We continue to be fully committed to achieving the 10 per cent, but we want to be thoughtful in how we go about that in terms of what works,” said federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in an interview.
Wilkinson said he will be digesting what the panel said and will come forward with a response in the relatively near term. “When we bring forward a response there will be a lot more public consultation,” he said.