Changes to Canada’s Oceans Act a good start say conservationists, but more is needed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 20, 2017 Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) welcomed the proposed changes to the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act tabled in the House of Commons on 15 June 2017. The proposed changes include providing some interim protection to sites identified as potential marine protected areas (MPAs) and setting time limits for final designation of those sites, requiring the application of the precautionary principle when designating an Oceans Act MPA, and strengthening enforcement powers and fines. “This is another positive step forward in the Government of Canada’s push to meet our international commitments to protect at least 10 percent of our ocean by 2020,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director. “Until now, Canada’s marine protected areas have taken far too long to establish. Some sites have taken up to 20 years to establish, with no interim protection, leaving ecologically important areas at great risk from industrial uses,” said Jessen. Under the proposed changes, by designating “interim protection” the government could “freeze the footprint” of human activities in a proposed MPA so current activities would be allowed to continue but new activities would be prohibited. Sites that receive interim protection would then have to be fully designated within five years. But according to Jessen, freezing the footprint might not be enough. “In some instances, we know existing activities pose significant threats to known ecological values, so freezing the footprint would offer little protection to vulnerable ecosystems,” said Jessen. Jessen points to the newly designated Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reef MPA as an example. “We knew ongoing fishing activities like mid-water trawling and prawn traps and bottom trawling near the reefs were causing damage, so freezing the footprint would have done little to protect the reefs,” said Jessen. “Freezing the footprint is a start but we hope Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will provide stronger interim protection for sites in the future,” Jessen adds. The proposed amendments to the Oceans Act also require the precautionary principle to be applied in the establishment of MPAs, so that a lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason to delay or fail to designate an MPA. According to Jessen, this is something conservationists have been pushing for years. “We are very happy to see the precautionary principle added as a requirement in the Oceans Act. Scientific studies take time, leaving sensitive ecosystems exposed to harmful human activities for years simply because we don’t have enough data.” In addition to amendments to the Oceans Act, complementary changes are being proposed to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act that would give the Minister of Natural Resources Canada the authority to prohibit oil and gas activities within a proposed MPA that is under interim protection. Additionally, the Minister of Natural Resources Canada could cancel a company’s exploration licenses or leases to mine an area that is designated an MPA. “These changes are a great improvement, as the Oceans Act currently contains no explicit prohibitions on oil and gas activities, unlike the National Marine Conservation Areas Act.. We wouldn’t allow an oil rig in our national parks and we shouldn’t allow them within our marine protected areas.” “However, we are disappointed that these changes on oil and gas activities do not apply in areas off Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia where offshore petroleum boards regulate oil and gas activities,” noted Jessen. “Proposed sites like Laurentian Channel MPA prohibit all fishing activities but would allow oil and gas activities to continue, which is a clear double standard. We think the amendments need to apply in these offshore regions of Canada where oil and gas activities are taking place” Jessen adds. “Oil and gas activities simply do not belong in marine protected areas, and recent polling by WWF and Environics has shown Canadians do not want these activities to be allowed inside our MPAs. We are pleased the government is listening to Canadians and taking steps to ensure our MPAs are better protected,” said Jessen. -30- For more information, contact: Sabine Jessen, National Director, Oceans Program, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society [email protected]. (604) 657-2813