Government takes important step in protecting Canada’s Oceans and Seamounts

Victoria, BC – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) today recognized the significant work on ocean conservation by the Government of Canada and welcomed the announcement of a new fishing closure as the critical first step to protect a large area of seamounts off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“There is a global push to protect seamounts as they are rare and vulnerable ocean ecosystems that are biodiversity hotspots, so we are pleased to see Canada doings its part,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS National Ocean Program Director.

The fishing closure will prohibit all bottom contact fishing on a large number of offshore seamounts and a hydrothermal vent field located off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and is the first step in the process to designate a new marine protected area.

“This fishing closure will address the immediate threats from bottom contact fisheries that can crush and destroy sensitive species like corals and sponges that live on the seamounts and support many other species,” said Jessen.

According to Jessen and her colleagues, the rich ecosystems and nutrient rich upwellings created by seamounts also support a wide array of other species like tuna, whales, and seabirds. “These species gather around seamounts to feed as they migrate from the open ocean to the BC coast, and these species need protection too,” said Alex Barron, Ocean Conservation Manager at CPAWS-BC. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has begun the process to create a very large MPA, almost 140,000km2, that encompasses the proposed fishing closure, and which we hope will provide seabed to surface protections, including full protection for these biodiversity hotspots,” adds Barron.

According to Jessen, the fishing closure is an important first step, “For many years we have been asking the government to provide interim protection for sites while they move through the MPA planning process,” said Jessen. “We have seen other sites take decades to be designated as MPAs while harmful activities like bottom trawling continue as usual, destroying the very species we are trying to protect. We applaud DFO for taking this important first step.”

The fishing closure, and the proposed MPA, follow on the heels of several recent MPA announcements. Canada has committed to protect at least 10% of its ocean by 2020. The Prime Minister and the Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada have made achieving this target a high priority. Recent MPAs include Hecate Strait glass sponge reefs MPA (BC) and interim protection for the proposed Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

“Over the past two years, the government has made significant efforts to advance ocean protection, including some strong MPAs like St Ann’s Bank in Nova Scotia which is completely closed to oil and gas and with 75% closed to all fishing” said Jessen. “However, we’ve also seen some weak MPA proposals, like Laurentian Channel, that would allow oil and gas activities, and Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area that would allow all current activities to continue, despite risks to the globally significant seabird colonies” she cautions.

“We’re pleased to see the government make ocean conservation a high priority and we recognize the strides that they have made over the past two years. We also need to make sure that we don’t jeopardize the quality of protection in our effort to meet targets” said Jessen.

CPAWS welcomed the recent announcement of a Ministerial Advisory Panel on minimum protection standards for marine protected areas earlier this month, “The science clearly shows that areas that are closed to all fishing and industrial activities like oil and gas, are much more effective at protecting biodiversity, supporting healthy fisheries, and rebuilding damaged ecosystems. We look forward to working with the Minister and the advisory panel to ensure that by 2020, more than 10% of Canada’s ocean is effectively protected from harmful activities.” said Jessen.

Jessen and her colleagues caution that the hard work is far from over as the science has demonstrated, and the international community is recommending ocean conservation targets of at least 30% in strongly protected MPAs by 2030. “We hope that the Government of Canada will demonstrate international leadership by adopting this target, and providing the financial and other resources necessary to ensure that our ocean ecosystems and marine wildlife, from seamounts to shorelines, are safeguarded for generations to come,” said Jessen