Recommendations to improve protection of the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area

Recommendations to improve protection of the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area

Based on our assessment of the marine species and ecosystems of the Scott Islands and the threats to their health, we make the following recommendations to improve the proposed protection measures for the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

1. Expand the proposed boundary to encompass, at the very least, the known feeding areas for Cassin’s auklets to the north of the proposed boundary. The original study area was over 25,000 km2, but the boundary has shrunk several times through the designation process. The proposed boundary is now just 11,546 km2, and excludes some key areas for Cassin’s auklets in particular.

2. Take a strongly precautionary approach that is consistent with the stated conservation goals to (1) protect and conserve the natural habitats, ecosystem linkages and marine esources that support seabird populations nesting on the Scott Islands, and (2) mitigate the risk of adverse effects on the breeding productivity and survival of seabirds resulting from human activities. According to the 2013 regulatory strategy the precautionary approach was to be used in the management of the marine National Wildlife Area, however there is no reference to it in the draft regulations. Canada is a signatory to a number of international treaties that include the precautionary approach, which notes that where there is risk of serious harm, actions to protect and conserve should not be impeded by a lack of evidence.

3. Prohibit all commercial and recreational fishing activities until it can be proven that they have no harmful effects on populations or ecosystems. Commercial fishing activities harm species directly, through bycatch and entanglement, and indirectly through prey depletion and destruction of marine habitats that are important to prey species. A recent study by Fisheries and Oceans Canada has shown that hundreds of seabirds die each year in fishing gear in the proposed Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

4. Prohibit bottom trawling from all “protected areas.Bottom trawling is known to cause widespread destruction of seafloor habitats and catches fish indiscriminately. Prohibiting bottom trawling would safeguard existing sensitive seafloor ecosystems such as sand lance habitat (an integral component of seabirds’ diet) and would give other ecosystems, such as sponges and corals, a chance to recover.

5. Explicitly prohibit gillnet fisheries in the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area and monitor the impacts of nearby fisheries. Although gillnet fisheries do not currently occur within the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area they have occurred historically and continue in adjacent waters. Gillnets are known to have some of the highest bycatch rates of seabirdsRhinoceros auklets, common murres, and marbled murrelets are particularly vulnerable to being caught in these nets.

6. Explicitly prohibit oil tankers from transiting the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area. At the eastern edge of the Great Bear Sea, the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area should be incorporated into the planned oil tanker ban. Seabirds, sea otters and sea lions are vulnerable to a catastrophic oil spill because they aggregate in large numbers, so even an isolated event could threaten 

a significant part of the population. Many other species gather around the Scott Islands to feed on the same prey. The waters around the Scott Islands are notoriously treacherous. This is no place for an oil tanker.

7. Designate vessel navigation lanes and channels in order to avoid the islands and key areas of foraging habitat. This would enable shipping and boat traffic to continue without harming or endangering the diverse marine life dependent on the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

8. Set a mandatory speed limit of 10 knots throughout the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area, in keeping with international best practices to reduce collisions and disturbance of whales, seabirds and other species.

9. Explicitly prohibit harming and harassing wildlife on the water: This should include pursuing or directly approaching wildlife (in the water or on land); using non-essential lighting at night; and sounding horns/whistles in the vicinity of the islands, bird aggregations, sea lion or sea otter colonies, in line with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s own Guidelines To Avoid Disturbance To Seabird And Waterbird Colonies.

10. Legally require captains of all vessels to report any incidents or collisions involving wildlife to the Canadian Coast Guard within two hours, in keeping with the regulations for The Gully MPA and the Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park designed to protect whales.

11. Explicitly prohibit any future oil and gas or mining activities. Environment and Climate Change Canada should seek the relinquishment of current oil and gas leases for the proposed site as was recently done for the proposed Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

12. Conduct a thorough assessment of climate change impacts to the SImNWA and identify strategies to support adaptation and climate mitigation. Climate change is a major, but poorly understood, threat to seabirds. Scientists think that last years mass die-off of young Cassin's auklets along the West Coast could have been due to anomalously warm sea temperatures in the North Pacific affecting prey availability.

13. Conduct and publish a thorough assessment of all Species at Risk that are known to use, or whose presumed range includes, the SImNWA. This needs to include the threats and mandated conservation measures under the Species At Risk Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and all other international and provincial regulations that may apply. There are many Species At Risk that are known to use this area that are vulnerable to commercial fishing and shipping, including sea otters, stellar sea lions, ancient murreletsmarbled murrelets, Blue, fin and sei whales, and many more.