Canada's Oceans Strategy

Table of Contents

The Context for Canada's Oceans Strategy

Canada - A Maritime Nation

Canada is an ocean nation whose economy, environment and social fabric are inextricably linked to the oceans and their resources. Bordered by three oceans, Canada's coastline is vast and diverse – the Pacific's multi-faceted shoreline of rugged mountains, inlets, fjords and islands – the Arctic's complex food web and habitats – the wide continental shelf of the Atlantic. Canada's oceans also define a large part of national sovereignty and are a critical element of national security.

Of equal significance are the internal marine waters of Canada, such as the St. Lawrence Estuary, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Hudson Bay, James Bay, Strait of Georgia, and the internal Arctic waters. In addition, the oceans are affected by rivers, watersheds, and land-based activities thousands of kilometres from the coasts. Eight of ten provinces and all three territories directly border oceans and marine waterways, and over 25 percent of the population live in coastal zones.

The richness and biodiversity of Canada's oceans provide enormous potential for present and future generations. The marine ecosystems have a remarkable diversity of species, including commercial and non-commercial fish, marine mammals, invertebrates and plants. The health of our oceans and sound management of ocean resources are not just coastal issues – they are truly national and affect all Canadians.

Canada's oceans are also a critical component of the overall global and national climate as they determine and regulate climate, and provide keys to the understanding of and adaptation to global climate change.

With over $20 billion in annual economic activity and many billions more in ocean trade passing through our waters, Canada's oceans and their resources are already significant contributors to the overall Canadian economy. Indeed, oceans are the lifeblood that support many coastal communities and are our highways to the world's market places. As they are also the backbone of the global transportation system, safe and secure navigable waters are critical to the effective functioning of Canada's national economy.

Oceans also offer the potential for numerous opportunities to generate significant economic, social and cultural benefits. Examples of the potential are found in fisheries (commercial, recreational and Aboriginal), aquaculture, tourism, transportation, shipbuilding, oil and mineral production, education and research. By developing this potential, Canada is in a position to provide knowledge, management advice and technical expertise for the world community. In addition, determining, understanding and regulating the activities being conducted in our ocean areas of jurisdiction is critical to ensuring national security, sovereignty and defence.

Environmental Impacts on Canada's Oceans

Oceans are facing severe environmental threats from over-exploitation, pollution from land-based and sea-based activities and the alteration and destruction of habitats and ecosystems. The health of oceans is affected by sewage and pollutant discharge in marine waters, excessive growth of marine plant life, alien species introduction and changes to hydrology and sediment flow.

Despite efforts to improve environmental quality of coasts and seas both in Canada and abroad, degradation of ocean environments has continued. As well, the lack of an integrated approach to using this shared resource has often caused conflict among economic, environmental and social objectives. Management of ocean resources in a global, sustained and integrated fashion has remained elusive, despite various international agreements and initiatives.

Interests in Canada's Oceans

Today, the growing number of different and competing interests makes management of Canada's oceans much more difficult and complex. Where once traditional fishing and shipping industries were nearly alone, they now share oceans with many others. The conflicts among ocean uses make it essential to ensure that policies are cohesive.

Many stakeholders, particularly those who wish to develop the oceans and their resources, are concerned about the lack of a common vision and common set of principles. As a result, many stakeholders feel that opportunities are somewhat complicated and diminished for investment and development of ocean resources, especially when taken together with a large number of government departments and agencies with oceans related mandates and regulatory regimes.

Current Management

Canada's oceans are governed by a complex web of laws and regulations managed by different levels of government. This governance structure points to the need for developing a unified vision and integrated approach to ocean management that effectively considers the impact of individual sector activities on each other, and on the oceans as a whole. This should be combined with developing resource management decision-making and environmental assessment approaches that take an ecosystem approach and effectively recognize the long-term cumulative impacts of human actions on the marine environment. New governance mechanisms can also further the coordination needed with the private sector, Aboriginal groups, local communities and other oceans stakeholders interests.

The Oceans Act

The Oceans Act provides a framework for modern and future ocean management initiatives, and calls for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to lead and facilitate the development of a national ocean management strategy. Canada's Oceans Strategy responds to this requirement. It is designed to be implemented in such a way that it provides policy direction for an integrated approach to ocean management, coordination of policies and programs across governments and an ecosystem approach to ocean resource management and environmental assessment.

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