British Columbia

New marine refuges create no-fishing zones near fragile glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound

All bottom-contact fishing activities are being banned from within 150 metres of nine newly discovered glass sponge reefs in the Salish Sea in the Howe Sound area northwest of Vancouver.

Pacific Prawn Fisherman's Association says it supports the closures, despite 'significant economic impact'

New refuge areas are being established surrounding glass sponge reefs in the Howe Sound area of B.C. (CBC)

The federal government is taking steps to protect fragile reefs found only in the Pacific Northwest. 

All bottom-contact fishing activities are being banned from within 150 metres of nine newly discovered glass sponge reefs in the Salish Sea in the Howe Sound area northwest of Vancouver. 

"As the name suggests, glass sponge reefs are extremely fragile. They grow very slowly and also take a long time to recover once damaged, which makes them particularly vulnerable to certain kinds of fishing gear," said federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said there is currently a fair amount of commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing activity in the area.

The new rules mean prawn and crab trapping, as well as salmon trolling, will be banned in the marine refuge areas.

The total protected area is 3.5 square kilometres.   

"Our members support these closures despite significant economic impacts the closures will have on individual prawn fishermen and their families," said Mike Atkins, executive director of the Pacific Prawn Fisherman's Association. 

Atkins said his association respects the role the sponges play in the marine ecosystem.

Eight different refuges have been set up to protect nine glass sponge reefs from damage from fishing. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
 

Randall Lewis, an environmental adviser from the Squamish Nation, also voiced support. 

"We've had too many incidents within the Howe Sound and all the Salish Sea. But now there's going to be more accountability responsibility, so that's awesome. I feel good about that," Lewis said. 

"It's just going to be a better place for today and the future," he said.  

Randall Lewis, an environmental adviser with the Squamish Nation, says he feels good about the enhanced environmental accountability resulting in the new marine refuges. (CBC)

Unique and rare   

The fragile glass sponge reefs of the Pacific Northwest are rarities in the world of ocean diversity. 

They were thought to be extinct until a discovery by Natural Resources Canada in 1987.

The reefs provide habitat and nursery grounds for more than 80 invertebrate and fish species, including prawns and rockfish, according to Wilkinson. 
 
He said the fishing closures will take effect ahead of the spring fishing season. Conservation officers will enforce the new rules. 

About the Author

Micki Cowan

Reporter/producer

Micki is a reporter and producer at CBC Vancouver. Her passions are municipal issues and water security.

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