Nova Scotia

Marine protected areas move closer to shore, MPs to discuss impact

Fishermen say Ottawa has not been clear about what a potential marine protected area will mean in fishing grounds.

Fishermen say Ottawa not clear on what potential protected areas will mean for fishing grounds

The ocean floor off St. Anns Bank is designated as a federal marine-protected site. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Cape Breton snow crab fisherman Basil MacLean speaks for many in coastal Nova Scotia when he complains Ottawa has not been clear about what a potential marine protected area (MPA) will mean in his fishing grounds.

"We've got no clarity. We got no idea what they want to protect," he says.

Earlier this year, officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans revealed an area known as the Cape Breton Trough in western Cape Breton is a potential candidate for designation as a marine protected area.

The Trough overlaps the lucrative snow crab grounds known in DFO bureaucratise as Area 19.

MPs on fact-finding mission

"We have not been told yet what is of interest to them in the Cape Breton Trough. We don't want to see anything that can jeopardize any part of our fishery," MacLean said.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Members of Parliament on the standing committee of Fisheries and Oceans will meet with Basil MacLean and other Cape Breton fishermen to listen to their concerns.

The committee has already carried out similar fact-finding missions on the West Coast and in the North.

British Columbia Conservative MP Mel Arnold says the fishing industry concerns are widespread.

"The studies need to take place to know what areas are impacted," said Arnold. "What are the key important areas to protect so we are not drawing artificial lines on an ocean that moves and negatively impacting fishermen and communities?"

DFO promises consultation plan by December

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says marine protected areas are not automatically closed to all types of fishing.

"In many cases an MPA means sustainable use. It doesn't mean is closed to everything or closed to specific activities. It could. But we are looking at a collaborative process," said Maxine Westhead, a DFO marine protected areas program manager in the Maritimes.

The federal government has pledged to protect 10 per cent of Canada's marine and coastal waters by 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Liberal Bernadette Jordan says that is important in her South Shore riding.

"The lobster fishery may not be impacted, depending on what it is you are trying to protect," Jordan said. "For example, with lobster fishermen if you are talking no bottom trawling, that doesn't affect lobster fisheries because they are not trawling."

Uncharted waters: protecting coastal areas

So far, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has looked to offshore areas in its efforts to hit its first conservation target: preserving five per cent of marine areas by 2017.

Off Nova Scotia that has meant the Gully, a large underwater canyon near Sable Island, and more recently St Anns Bank off northern Cape Breton.

DFO recently declared its intention to permanently protect the Western and Emerald Banks.

But in some ways, that is low-hanging fruit because the banks, a haddock nursery, have been closed to commercial ground fishing since the 1980s.

Reaching Canada's goal of protecting 10 per cent of its oceans by 2020 will require Ottawa to enter uncharted waters closer to shore, according to environmentalist Travis Aten of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

Aten met with the parliamentary committee on Monday.

The leatherback sea turtle is an endangered species and part of its migratory route includes feeding in the St. Anns Bank area. (John Dickinson/CBC)

"That means we have to move into the coast. We don't have a lot of experience in protecting areas along the coast. We're hoping we can establish a new process where we can establish a new level of trust between DFO and the fishers," Aten said.

The department is currently looking at two areas: Eastern Shore Islands and the Sambro Ledges.

DFO will release a full network plan for the region in December.

About the Author

Paul Withers


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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.