CPAWS applauds government commitment to establishing minimum standards for Canadian marine protected

Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) applauds the government for recognizing the need for minimum protection standards for Canada’s marine protected areas (MPAs) and for announcing the establishment of a new advisory panel to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard on the development of these standards.

“CPAWS has been working on MPAs in Canada for over 20 years. During this time, we have repeatedly called for minimum protection standards, so we are pleased to see Canada’s federal government take this important step,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS National Ocean Program Director. “CPAWS is committed to bringing our decades of experience to this process and to work with the Minister, Indigenous leaders, and the scientific community, to ensure a robust set of standards.”

Currently, protection standards in Canada’s MPAs vary considerably. The recently announced Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reef MPA and St. Anns Bank MPA were welcomed by CPAWS for providing strong protection for sensitive marine ecosystems. However, the government also met heavy criticism for proposing to allow oil and gas activities to continue in much of the soon to be designated Laurentian Channel MPA, and for the lack of any protection measures being proposed for the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area.

According to CPAWS, clear minimum protection standards for MPAs should include: no bottom trawling, no oil and gas activities, no deep-sea mining, and mandatory core no-take areas. “The science is crystal clear. We know these activities are harmful, and in many cases lethal, for our ocean ecosystems and marine life. We hope that the advisory panel will provide some certainty that vulnerable species and ecosystems are actually protected in Canada’s MPAs,” said Jessen.

A 2015 analysis of Canada’s MPAs, conducted by CPAWS, found just 0.01 percent of Canada’s ocean estate is fully protected by MPAs that are closed to all extractive activities, including commercial and recreational fishing, oil and gas, and mining. “This number increased with the announcement of St Anns Bank, but we’re still significantly below fully protecting even just one per cent of our ocean. This is troubling because international discussions and current science are now suggesting 30 percent of our ocean needs to be fully protected,” added Jessen.

“We found regulations are weak and confusing when we examined Canada’s MPAs,” said Jessen. “For example, MPAs established by DFO under the Oceans Act, typically have a broad statement prohibiting activities that ‘disturb, damage or destroy,’ but this is followed by a long list of exemptions, including commercial fishing, and even oil and gas activities,” said Jessen.

The announcement of the advisory panel is an important step in Canada’s efforts to meet its international commitments to protect 10 percent of our ocean by 2020. “We have seen a lot of announcements recently about how Canada will protect more of its ocean, but we need to make sure that ecologically important areas actually receive quality protection,” said Jessen.

According to CPAWS there is a significant double standard when comparing protected areas on land and in the ocean. “Canadians wouldn’t accept an intensive cattle farm, oil and gas activities, or forestry clear-cuts in a national park. Yet we often see harmful fishing practises like bottom trawling, as well as seismic testing, and oil and gas activities being permitted in our marine protected areas, despite knowing the risks to wildlife,” said Jessen. “We look forward to working with the Minister, the advisory panel, Indigenous leaders, and scientists to establish minimum protection standards for Canada’s MPAs that are scientifically sound and consistent with international best practices.”