Marine Protected Areas 103: Canada’s “Protected” Areas

But how well protected are Canada’s MPAs?

The term “Marine Protected Area,” gives the impression that the designated area is, well, protected. Unfortunately, in Canada this isn’t actually always the case. A study by CPAWS found that most MPAs in Canada allow commercial fishing, shipping, and in some cases even oil and gas activities to continue.

Although the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte MPA adequately protects the glass sponge reefs by taking a precautionary approach to conservation and prohibiting all bottom contact fishing activities, not all MPAs have this level of protection. The proposed regulations for Canada’s Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area, home to over 1 million seabirds, allows harmful fishing practices and industrial shipping to continue inside the boundary. So, standards of protection can vary widely and the devil is in the details.

Planning for Canada’s Future

No-take MPAs, areas where all extractive activities (like fishing and oil and gas exploration) are prohibited have been found to produce much greater benefits than partially protected areas. While “no-take” MPAs do exist, they are few and far between. Less than 500km2 of Canada’s ocean is in no-take areas.

In order to ensure the resilience of our ocean, we need more no-take areas that offer permanent protection from all extractive activities. That’s why CPAWS fights for effective marine protected areas, like the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, and contests inadequate protection, like the proposed regulations for the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

What about the rest of the ocean?

An oil spill outside of an MPA will still drastically affect the ecosystem that the MPA was designed to protect. Industrial activity and commercial fishing need to be sustainably managed alongside MPA network planning, to ensure the long-term health of our oceans and coastal communities. This is why CPAWS has spent the past decade working to support widespread marine planning across the BC coast.

Have questions about MPAs? Shoot us an email at or a facebook message at! We would love to hear from you!

Missing parts one and two of this blog series? Click here to learn what an MPA is and click here to read about the beneifts of MPAs.

Photo by Kim Kornbacher