A federal government plan to speed up the creation of more marine protected areas in Canada is getting pushback from some Atlantic Canadian fisheries groups.

Marine protected areas are established to protect species at risk or unique species from human interference. These areas can close designated ocean and coastal areas to economic activities like offshore energy development and fishing.

"This is a huge impact on all the fisheries in Canada," said Ian MacPherson, the executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association.

MacPherson and other fishing industry representatives outlined their concerns this week in appearances before the parliamentary standing committee on fisheries and oceans.

Ian MacPherson

Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, says marine protected areas would have a negative impact on the Island's economy. (CBC)

The Liberal government has pledged to protect 10 per cent of Canada's marine and coastal waters by 2020. That's about 525,000 square kilometres, which is roughly equal to the area of the Atlantic provinces.

Fishermen warned of consequences if fishing grounds are closed to create marine protected areas.

"The displacement of fishermen from one community to another because of an MPA would disrupt the economy of the Island," MacPherson told the MPs, via video conference.

Association president Robert Jenkins said the organization's top concern is what a protected area would mean for its members.

"If there's displacement of 10 or 15 or 20 fishermen, they have to go someplace to make a living," he said.

Concern about Cape Breton Trough

Leonard LeBlanc, managing director of the fishermen's group Gulf of Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, criticized DFO's selection of the Cape Breton Trough as a potential marine protected area. The trough is an area located off the coast of northwestern Cape Breton.

It has been identified as an area of interest, which is the first step toward a protection designation. It supports 156 snow crab licence holders whose landings are worth $32 million annually.

"The consultation process was not well planned, organized or transparent, even within DFO," LeBlanc said.

He said it wasn't clear why the Cape Breton Trough was chosen for protection as he believes it doesn't meet the necessary parameters.

Some of the features of marine protected areas may include being home to "important fish and marine mammal habitats, endangered marine species, unique features and areas of high biological productivity or biodiversity," says a Parliament of Canada document.

Federal targets achievable: MP

LeBlanc said it isn't clear what the protected area would look like and what restrictions there would be on fishing activities.

Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan said a marine protected area designation doesn't necessarily end fishing there. She also believes the government's targets are achievable.

"I'm happy with the way it's progressing, although I do think we do need to make sure we talk with the people affected," said Jordan.

A story of uncertainty and adaptation

Jordan Nickerson of Ship's Lobster Pound in Woods Harbour, N.S., knows firsthand what can happen when an area is declared off-limits for conservation.

His company lost 50 per cent of the fishing grounds it used to catch a red crab quota when the Corsair Canyon near Georges Bank was declared a significant seabed for how it protects deep sea coral. His company had just spent $1.5 million on a vessel built specifically for landing red crab.

"Abruptly, our access to our fishing grounds were being called into question, therefore adding more complexity to what was an already strenuous situation," Nickerson told the MPs.

He said he's been able to find enough red crab outside the closed area, a prediction DFO officials made in September 2016 when the designation was announced.

"We are finding crab historically where its never been there before, so this one was not so bad, we were able to justify continuing fishing," he said.

"But it's what's coming down in the future, that is the scariest part for us."

Environmentalists appearing before the committee applauded the government's plan for marine protected areas and urged the government to stay on track.