Report silent on whether lobster fishing should be allowed in marine protected areas

The development of marine protected areas has been sensitive in coastal provinces where premiers have complained they could hinder economic activity.

Canada working toward goal of protecting 10 per cent of ocean and coastal waters by 2020

Federal officials have repeatedly said that lobster fishing should not be impacted in areas under consideration for marine protected status. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

A national advisory panel says no oil and gas development or bottom-trawling fishing activities should be allowed in Canada's marine protected areas.

The panel was created earlier this year by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to recommend standards on what activities should — or should not — be allowed inside marine protected areas, or MPAs.

The panel issued its final report on Tuesday, a month later than expected. The first of its 13 recommendations is a call for greater transparency in the development of MPAs.

Room for improvement

Panel chair Remi Bujold said Ottawa needs to start much sooner and do a much better job consulting with local communities, especially fishing communities, when it identifies areas for protection.

"When you are starting the process you have to start consultations with local communities, involve them in the beginning," Bujold said in an interview.

The report also recommends that First Nations become "full partners" in the development of MPAs. It said Indigenous protected areas, where conservation is Indigenous-led, should be recognized in law and have permanent, long-term funding.

The Indigenous protected areas would count toward Canada's goal of protecting 10 per cent of ocean and coastal waters by 2020.

Banning industrial activity

The development of MPAs has been sensitive in ocean provinces like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador where Liberal premiers have complained they could hinder economic activity.

The panel recommends Canada adopt the standards and guidelines developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which prohibits industrial activities in marine protected areas.

In addition to oil and gas and bottom trawling, the IUCN standards also prohibit mining and dumping. The report is silent on lobster fishing in MPAs.

DFO officials have repeatedly said that lobster fishing should not be impacted in areas under MPA consideration. The panel report offers a potential loophole, however, for the fishing and oil and gas industries.

Other ways to meet target

The government has already decided that what it calls "other effective area-based conservation measures," such as Fisheries Act closures, can be counted toward Canada's 10 per cent target.

"When industrial activities are allowed to occur in areas counted as other effective area-based conservation measures, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard must be satisfied through effective legislation or regulation that risks to intended biodiversity outcomes are avoided or mitigated," the report said. 

Kris Vascotto, executive director of the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council, supports another panel focus — the need to identify areas that deliver the highest quality of protection versus the size of area protected.

Vascotto also welcomed the discretion to allow extractive activities using other effective conservation protections.

"There is the natural loophole that is on the back end of some discretion that is provided if there is confidence of mitigation. We hope that will be applied to all sectors that are participating in the industrial landscape," Vascatto said.

Environmentalist calls for even protection

Louie Porta, an environmentalist from Oceans North, sees it differently. 

Porta said other areas protected through other legislative tools like designated marine refuges and Fisheries Act closures should have the same prohibitions and protections as MPAs.

"We are arguing for 10 per cent of our waters to be meaningfully protected and that essentially means 90 per cent remains open for business," Porta said. "We do not feel that is out of balance."

Bujold said there is no loophole.

He said in marine refuges and places closed under the Fisheries Act, the onus is on the minister to protect biodiversity.

"We're telling the minister in all the various tools that you will have, you have to look at them and have the assurance that biodiversity will be protected and you will have to make a decision based on that."

Ottawa to review recommendations

Anna Metaxas, an oceanographer at Dalhousie University, agreed.

Metaxas said by their very nature, those areas — while not marine protected areas — are being set aside for conservation.

"I don't see how you could do that and have them count under the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] and still have oil and gas," she said.

Federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson thanked the panel and said the government will review the recommendations.

"Unlike the Harper Conservatives, our government is actively engaging with our partners in the provinces and territories, with Indigenous communities, marine industries and Canadians from coast to coast to coast to increase protections and meet our targets while supporting a healthy oceans economy."

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.