Nova Scotia asks Ottawa to stop protecting new marine areas

Nova Scotia has asked the federal government to stop setting aside new marine protected areas off Nova Scotia — at least for now.

Federal government 'should focus on other areas' before asking Nova Scotia to do more, province says

The leatherback sea turtle is an endangered species that lives in the protected St. Anns Bank off Cape Breton. (John Dickinson/CBC)

Nova Scotia has asked the federal government to stop setting aside new marine protected areas off Nova Scotia — at least for now.

The province says it's had more than its fair share set aside and is concerned about the economic impact of a designation, which can restrict activities like fishing or offshore energy development.

"We're all for protecting marine areas. It's important for the country. We just want to ensure there is fairness and equity," said Nova Scotia Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan.

The province made its request in an April 5 letter from Nova Scotia's ministers of energy, fisheries, environment and natural resources to federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

"Nova Scotia has reached the right balance for now. We suggest that the federal government now work with other jurisdictions to reach the high level of protection that has been achieved in Nova Scotian waters before Nova Scotia is asked to make further contributions," the letter states.

'Focus on other areas'

Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell was more blunt in an April 27 letter to the province's fish processors.

"We are concerned about the economic impacts and have indicated to the federal government that we are not presently supporting the designation of additional areas around Nova Scotia," Colwell wrote. 

"The federal government focus should be on other areas that have contributed far less than Nova Scotia."

Colwell has written his own letter to LeBlanc asking that marine protection designations include a means to consider future access.

MacLellan said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has not responded to the Nova Scotia request and the department did not respond to a CBC inquiry Thursday.

The federal government has committed to protecting five per cent of Canada's oceans by this year and 10 per cent by 2020. So far, it has protected one per cent. 

Nova Scotia has most protected marine areas

Nova Scotia has the most marine areas under protection at about 2.5 per cent, according to a 2016 DFO estimate.

DFO is looking at 52 areas of special interest in Nova Scotia waters, including the Cape Breton Trough, a large area off western Cape Breton that supports 156 crab licence holders.

Earlier this month, the department designated St. Anns Bank off Cape Breton. The 4,300-square-kilometre area is home to priority species like leatherback turtles, cod and wolf fish.

A designation does not automatically close an area to all activity, but it does make it subject to higher levels of management to protect unique marine habitats, endangered whales, sponges or coral.

Kevin Ross, a Shelburne County lobster fisherman, said he supports Nova Scotia's position. He worries Ottawa's plan to expand marine protected areas could bar him from lobster grounds.

"It's a big concern, especially here on the southwest shore," he told CBC News.

He wants DFO to take into account areas already under fishing restrictions when it calculates the amount of marine protection.

Other regions 'preparing to meet these targets'

Katie Schleit of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax said other provinces will overtake Nova Scotia.

"We've had many years of engagement around ocean planning, so we have been able to protect some of our offshore and inshore waters," she said. 

"We have other regions — B.C., the Arctic and Newfoundland — who are quickly preparing to meet these targets."