Canada's Oceans Strategy

Table of Contents

The Application of Canada's Oceans Strategy

Managing Canada's Oceans

Canada's oceans are part of the "global commons." Like other ocean nations, Canada is required to manage these resources in a manner that recognizes the international laws, agreements and standards for ensuring order on the seas, beyond the waters of any one state. Management of Canada's oceans is based on both national and international obligations and commitments.


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is considered the international constitution of the oceans incorporating both the codification of customary international law and negotiated treaty commitments relating to the world's oceans. It provides a comprehensive framework for the regulation of the oceans. It deals with a range of activities such as access to the seas, navigation, protection and preservation of the marine environment, pollution prevention and control, exploitation of living and non-living resources, conservation, scientific monitoring and research, and the outline of a dispute settlement mechanism. Although the Government of Canada has not yet ratified the 1982 UNCLOS, it is committed to its eventual ratification. Already, a significant proportion of UNCLOSprovisions are reflected in Canadian legislation.

There are also numerous other international instruments, processes and institutions dealing with the full range of ocean issues in which Canada is actively engaged to promote and support its interests and responsibilities. These rights and obligations under international conventions and agreements are fully recognized and respected in Canada's Oceans Strategy. The Strategy is also designed to advance the international drive to strengthen the global oceans governance regime.

The Government of Canada

Almost every federal department and agency in Canada is involved in the management of the oceans through policies, programs, services, or regulations. In addition to oceans management, federal departments and agencies have specific authorities, policies and program responsibilities in a wide range of diverse areas such as resource management, sovereignty and defence, trade and industrial development, northern development, transportation and safety, and health and environment.

The Oceans Act provides the legislative foundation for Canada's Oceans Strategy. It provides the basis for oceans governance by:

  • defining maritime territory in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), including the declaration of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ);
  • assigning a leadership role to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in the stewardship of Canada's oceans, and the development of a national strategy for the management of all activities in or affecting estuarine, coastal and marine areas; and
  • clarifying and consolidating federal oceans management and responsibilities, as well as oceans responsibilities not otherwise assigned.

At its core, the Oceans Act has a principle-based approach, premised on collaboration and co-operation, and respect for assigned constitutional and legislative responsibilities, including existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

The Preamble of the Oceans Act guides Canada's Oceans Strategy. The Preamble states that:

  • Canada promotes the understanding of oceans, ocean processes, marine resources and marine ecosystems to foster the sustainable development of the oceans and their resources;
  • Canada holds that conservation, based on an ecosystem approach, is of fundamental importance to maintaining biological diversity and productivity in the marine environment;
  • Canada promotes the wide application of the precautionary approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of marine resources in order to protect these resources and preserve the marine environment;
  • Canada promotes the integrated management of oceans and marine resources;
  • Canada recognizes that the oceans and their resources offer significant opportunities for economic diversification and the generation of wealth for the benefit of all Canadians, and in particular for coastal communities; and
  • The Minister in collaboration with other ministers, boards and agencies of federal, provincial and territorial governments, and with affected Aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other persons and bodies (including those bodies established under land claims agreements), is encouraging the development and implementation of a national strategy for the management of estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems.

Provincial, Territorial and Local Governments

While the federal government has broad responsibilities for the stewardship and management of Canada's oceans and resources, there are equally important roles and responsibilities for provincial, territorial and local governments. Provinces have primary responsibility for provincial lands, the shoreline and specific seabed areas. Municipalities have responsibility for many of the land-based activities affecting the marine environment. Canada's Oceans Strategy provides the basis for a new strategic management framework to involve all levels of government and interests to work on achieving common objectives.


The Constitution Act, 1982 recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. The Oceans Actcontains an explicit provision to provide certainty that it does not abrogate or derogate from those rights. Canada's Oceans Strategy, flowing as it does from the Act, provides this same certainty.

First Nations, Inuit and other Aboriginal groups and organizations have long held a special relationship and connection with the oceans. There is much to be learned from the holistic Aboriginal approach to the marine environment. Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge is an important component of increasing understanding of the complex marine environment.

Canada's Oceans Strategy also respects the legislative responsibilities of land claim agreements that outline specific resource management responsibilities and commitments by the federal government to co-operate and collaborate with the signatories. In many cases, these agreements directly or indirectly affect or concern the oceans.

The Strategy provides the broad framework and active encouragement for Aboriginal groups in Canada to become engaged in ocean management. Where Treaties and Land Claims Agreements are not yet established, there are a range of opportunities for involvement and engagement of Aboriginal communities. Specifically, Integrated Management planning offers an opportunity for First Nation communities and Aboriginal groups to become involved in ocean management decision making.

Coastal Communities

Canadians have expressed a desire to be more engaged in ocean management. The Strategy offers Canadians the opportunity for greater and more direct involvement in policy and management decisions that affect their lives. Coastal communities will be actively involved in the development, promotion, and implementation of sustainable oceans activities, as Integrated Management planning will offer this kind of direct opportunity. In this way, there is a more viable planning process, associated actions are relevant to the area, and there is "on the ground" expertise and capacity for implementation, monitoring and compliance promotion.

Ocean Industries

Canada's oceans support a diverse network of commercial activity, including commercial and sport fishing, aquaculture, high technology instrument development, shipbuilding, oil and gas exploration and extraction, seabed mining, defence production, tourism and recreation, boating, marine transportation and ports, marine navigation, and communications. Canada's Oceans Strategy aims to promote the development of private / public partnerships and standards that will support existing and emerging ocean industries, and ensure the conservation and sustainability of ocean resources.

Ocean Interests

There are also non-government organizations, interest groups and academics with a wealth of expertise who can provide informed advice on matters such as economic, environmental and social issues, science and technology, community living, jobs and growth, and public education. Canada's Oceans Strategy is designed to actively encourage the participation of these groups and individuals in its evolution and implementation.

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