As the government of Canada seeks to meet its target of protecting 5% of our coastal and marine environment by 2017, the EAC recognizes that all tools – including closures under the Fisheries Act must be used, as our current legislation and process for Marine Protected Areas under the Oceans Act does not allow for an expedited process and MPAs can take between 6-8 years from identification to establishment.
EAC commends the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for increasing protections on the “Haddock Box” or Western Emerald Bank Conservation Area (WBECA). This area has been closed to groundfishing since 1987 and has also been identified as an Ecologically or Biologically Significant Area, containing a wide variety of marine species as well as being considered an important area for spawning for several commercial fish species. The WEBCA is a good interim step towards protection and its inclusion in Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs) is an important step towards ecosystem-based fisheries management and goes well beyond a single species management approach.
During the consultation period for this proposed closure, the EAC submitted comments and made several recommendations, some of which have been incorporated by DFO in its final regulatory process to protect this area. We are pleased that DFO has removed areas where scallop fishing currently takes place from the area that is to be considered towards the 5% target, however the WEBCA is not protected from oil and gas activity or some pelagic fisheries – both of which impact marine diversity.
We recognize that Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in order to meet its 5% target and in absence of agreed international guidance on the types of areas that can be seen to count towards meeting the 10% goal has developed its own criteria. We urge DFO to continue to work with other governments and through the Convention on Biological Diversity process and in line with advice provided by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to support strong standards for other effective conservation measures – that are outside of Canada’s current legal tool box for marine protection.
While we support using the Fisheries Act for some area closures, including and in particular areas know for being home to coral, sponges and sea pens – we also urge DFO to review these closures ahead of the 2020 target for at least 10% protection, with a view towards establishing fully protected MPAs for selected sites. The EAC and others will continue to advocate for permanency of these closures as well as restrictions from other industrial activities, including oil and gas exploration and development through relevant legislation and regulations.