The federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has responded publicly for the first time to Nova Scotia's formal request to him that Ottawa stop setting aside any more marine protected areas off its coast.

Dominic LeBlanc said there will be no change from its target to preserve five per cent of Canada's oceans by the end of this year and 10 per cent by 2020.

"I understand the concern of the government of Nova Scotia. I have tried to reassure them that we are not insensitive to this," LeBlanc said at the conclusion of a fisheries ministers' meeting Wednesday in Whitehorse.

'We will meet this commitment'

"But I also told my provincial and territorial counterparts that we will meet this commitment we made to Canadians," he said. "Not getting to that target is not an option."

In April, four Nova Scotia cabinet ministers wrote to LeBlanc requesting a halt on the creation of any more marine protected off the province's coast — at least until other jurisdictions increase their levels of protection to match what has already been set aside in Nova Scotia.

LeBlanc said other provinces will catch up by the end of 2017.

Province against more marine protected areas

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell looked on as LeBlanc politely but firmly declared there wil be no backsliding.

Colwell was a signatory to the Nova Scotia request to stop the creation of more marine protected areas and that position has not changed.

"We are against having any more marine protected areas off Nova Scotia. We've already got 30,000 square kilometres or more," he said in Whitehorse.

Colwell took comfort in the fact that the federal department is including areas previously closed — such as fish spawning grounds or ecologically sensitive coral habitats — when it calculates areas it considers protected.

"It appears now we won't be hit as hard as we thought we would be. We will have to wait and see until the federal government makes a final decision," he said.

Oceanographer 'glad' minister is sticking to targets

LeBlanc's reaffirmation in Whitehorse is welcomed by Dalhousie University oceanographer Anna Metaxas.

"I am glad to hear the minister is sticking to the targets. He has the support of many Canadians," Metaxas said.

To meet Canada's international commitments, the amount of ocean area off Nova Scotia under protection will have to double by 2020.