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New CPAWS report underlines weaknesses in Canada’s marine protected areas

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Ottawa -- In its annual report released today on Canada’s progress in protecting its ocean, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has found that the regulations and policies governing existing marine protected areas (MPAs) are too often weak or confusing.

“It is worrying that human activities known to harm ocean ecosystems are permitted in any of Canada’s marine protected areas. Yet they are, and these activities include oil and gas exploration, large-scale commercial fishing, and dredging and dumping,” says CPAWS National Ocean Program Director Sabine Jessen.

To prepare its assessment, CPAWS reviewed publicly available data, regulations and management plans published by federal agencies about their marine protected areas. Where information was not publicly available, it submitted requests to the relevant government agencies. In the case of provincial sites, protection from the activities we focused on requires federal agencies to exercise their legal mandates, which generally does not appear to be the case.

“We were very surprised that the rules for Canada’s MPAs at both the federal and provincial levels are not clearer about prohibited activities from the outset. Only the National Marine Conservation Areas Act has clear prohibitions on oil and gas activities, and provisions related to dredging and dumping,” says Jessen.

Other report highlights:

•  A comparison of G20 Countries by the U.S. Marine Conservation Institute, found only .11% of Canada's ocean estate is fully closed to all extractive uses (including oil and gas and fishing activities), leaving Canada far behind many other G20 countries. For example, the U.S. and U.K. have nearly 10% of their ocean estates in MPAs that are fully closed to extractive activities, South Africa's and Australia's are at 4% and Russia's are at .59%.

• Although underwater oil and gas exploration and development pose a major threat to marine life, CPAWS found that in one-third (8) of Canada`s 23 federally designated marine protected sites there is no permanent prohibition of these activities. 

• Overfishing and harmful fishing activities pose a serious threat to marine life. Properly designed marine protected areas provide essential "nurseries" for fish to breed and grow into healthy adults.  However, CPAWS found that less than 600 km2 within federally designated MPAs, representing .01% of Canada's ocean estate, are designated as "no fishing" zones.

• Dredging and dumping can cause significant harm to marine life by altering sensitive habitats where aquatic species breed and grow. However, CPAWS found five of the 23 federal MPAs permit these activities, for example to maintain wharves and boat launches and keep navigable waterways open.

• CPAWS researchers found that MPA regulations and plans were often unclear about what activities were permitted or not within their borders.  In many cases, a list of restricted activities within a specific MPA is followed by an equally long list of exclusions and exemptions, calling into question the true value of the regulations.

“With just 1.3% of Canada’s vast ocean estate officially “protected”, our concern about marine conservation is higher than ever.  As we reported last year, Canada needs to significantly increase in the amount of our ocean designated as protected to catch up to countries like the U.S., where 30% of its ocean estate is legally protected. Now we’re also recommending much stronger and consistent management rules for all of our MPAs. Science shows that strong networks of MPAs help to sustain and regenerate fisheries. Properly regulated MPAs can also provide stability and resiliency in the ocean in response to climate change.  However, we fear that little marine conservation will be accomplished by Canada’s weak MPA regulations that are too often in place now,” says Jessen.

CPAWS notes that the weak management approach documented for existing MPA sites seems to be continuing for proposed sites currently under consideration. Examples include British Columbia’s Scott Islands, where a proposed National Wildlife Area would permit “all existing uses” to continue, and the Laurentian Channel off Newfoundland where a proposed MPA will allow for oil and gas activities.

“I do want to note that we’re encouraged by the proposal for St. Anns Bank off Nova Scotia because it includes a significant no-take area that excludes commercial fishing and oil and gas activities.  We are also encouraged by the intention expressed by Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park managers that commercial fishing activities will be prohibited in future,” adds Jessen. 

“We’re recommending that the federal and provincial governments take a much more proactive approach across the board to putting strong and clear regulations in place for marine protected areas so that these places can live up to their name,” says Jessen.


View full report

For media interviews, contact:

Sabine Jessen

Director, Oceans Program, (604) 657-2813

Ellen Adelberg

Communications Director, (613) 569-7226 x234


Media Coverage

Global News: Canadian policies on marine protection areas woefully inadequate: report

Global BC TV: Sabine Jessen speaks about latest Ocean Report 

Global News TV: Alexandra Barron speaks about inadequacies in our marine protected areas