Nfld. & Labrador

To conserve or protect: Eastport marine protected area not meeting conservation goals, says report

The Eastport marine protected area protects lobster but doesn't meet larger conservation goals, says a new report.
The autonomous underwater vehicle used to survey the sea floor for a recent paper about the Eastport marine protected area leaves Happy Adventure. (Emilie Novaczek)

New research shows the marine protected area in Eastport is protecting the lobster population while falling short on larger conservation goals.

The area was originally a voluntary fishery closure instated to preserve the lobster population. It comprised two smaller regions: one in Newman Sound, by Round Island, and the other north of Salvage, by Duck Island. 

In 2005, it became an official marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

"Boundaries that are great for a lobster fisheries closure are not necessarily great for a marine protected area," said Emilie Novaczek, a graduate student in the geography department at Memorial University. 

"And that's what we found here."

Emilie Novaczek is the lead researcher on a new paper looking at whether the Eastport marine protected area is meeting its conservation goals. (Emilie Novaczek)

 A fishery closure has one goal: to protect a certain commercial species. Marine protected areas have bigger conservation goals. Under the marine protected area designation, northern and spotted wolffish, both threatened, were flagged for protection in the Eastport region. And according to the federal guidelines, any marine protected area should be protecting vulnerable habitats. 

In a report released this week, Novaczek and her team say the region isn't doing either.

Crying wolffish

According to their report, spotted and northern wolffish prefer deep waters, anywhere from 200 to 1,000 metres deep. The waters in the Eastport area are only 100 metres deep.

Northern wolffish prefer deep waters, anywhere from 200 to 1,000 metres deep. The waters in the Eastport area are only 100 metres deep. (Andrew J. Martinez)

"There's no evidence that wolfish are found in that area," said Novaczek. "When you talk to harvesters in the area, they're not catching spotted and northern wolfish there. When we map the habitat we don't find wolffish there. It's unlikely they would ever be there."

Few habitats, few species

And while the waters around the Eastport Peninsula are home to many vulnerable habitats, like eelgrass beds where juvenile fish take cover from predators, none of them is enclosed by the marine protected area.

The lobster population in the area is in great shape.

The lobster population in the area has been shown to be in great shape, but Novaczek and her team note that the Eastport marine protected area is tiny — at 2.1 square kilometres, it's the smallest in the country. She and her team point out that an area that small can be home to only so many lobsters.

Not meeting standards for national 10 per cent

The takeaway, they say, is that boundaries set for a fisheries closure may not work for a protected area. A fishery closure has one goal: to protect a certain commercial species. Marine protected areas have to accomplish a lot more.

Canada has laid out explicit marine conservation targets under the UN Convention of Biodiversity, including the conservation of 10 per cent of its coastal and marine areas by 2020.

The Eastport area is counted toward that 10 per cent. Novaczek says it isn't earning its keep.

"The convention on biological diversity is really explicit," she said. "This area is protecting mainly one type of habitat — lobster habitat — and that was the original goal. But it's not delivering on the underlying conservation objective of that international commitment and the national standards for marine protected areas."

An incredible opportunity

Novaczek and her team have outlined a number of ways to improve the area, including making it bigger or changing the boundaries.

Ducks Island, in the Eastport Peninsula. (Emilie Novaczek)

"We have a really incredible opportunity here," she said. "We have 20 years of research, we have 20 more years of local knowledge, and we can make the area better based on this wealth of information."

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist was unavailable for comment.

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