Canada's Oceans Strategy

Table of Contents

Policy Framework

As a policy framework, Canada's Oceans Strategy has the overarching goal – to ensure healthy, safe and prosperous oceans for the benefit of current and future generations of Canadians.

The policy framework is intended to guide the co-ordination and management of ocean activities. All levels of government retain respective legislative and jurisdictional responsibilities and authorities.


As set out in the Oceans Act, the Strategy is based on the three principles of sustainable developmentintegrated management and the precautionary approach. These three principles should guide all ocean management decision making.

Application of these principles is premised on a sound base of scientific and traditional knowledge. The scientific knowledge required to make oceans management decisions encompasses both natural and social dimensions. It is derived from sources inside and outside Canada and its governments. Under theStrategy, the Government of Canada commits to ensuring that the following principles serve as guides and tests for assessing future oceans management decisions.

The sustainable development principle rests at the core of Canada's Oceans Strategy. It recognizes the need for integration of social, economic and environmental aspects of decision making, and that any current and future ocean resource development must be carefully undertaken without compromising the ability of future generations of Canadians to meet their needs.

While this principle applies to all oceans management considerations, from an operational perspective, this Strategy commits the Government of Canada to ensure its implementation through the process of integrated management planning. (Implementation details are available in the Policy and Operational Framework for Integrated Management of Estuarine, Coastal and Marine Environments in Canada).

As a principle, Integrated Management is a commitment to planning and managing human activities in a comprehensive manner while considering all factors necessary for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and the shared use of ocean spaces.

Integrated Management is central to Canada's Oceans Strategy, as it contains commitments to the long-term objective of developing large-scale and local Integrated Management plans for all of Canada's oceans, starting with priority areas and building on experience as resources and capacity permit.

Integrated Management also embodies several other important principles, concepts and approaches, such as:

  • integrated data collection, monitoring, research, synthesis, and information sharing, communication and education (the full range of relevant knowledge is applied to the planning process and decision-making process, including scientific studies and local and traditional knowledge);
  • inclusive and collaborative oceans governance structures and processes;
  • flexible and adaptive management techniques to deal with uncertainty and improvements in the understanding of marine species and ecosystems; and
  • planning on the basis of natural and economic systems together, rather than principally on political or administrative boundaries (Integrated Management plans may include more than one province or territory or span international boundaries).

The precautionary approach, defined in the Oceans Act as "erring on the side of caution," is a key principle to be applied in the management of ocean activities. Under the Strategy, the Government of Canada is re-affirming its commitment to promoting 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's Oceans Strategy will be governed by the ongoing policy work being undertaken by the Government of Canada.

Further commitments in this Strategy clarify the application of this principle from an oceans perspective, namely:

  • the promotion of an ecosystem-based approach to management;
  • the application of conservation measures necessary to maintain biological diversity and productivity of the marine environment, including the establishment of marine protected areas;
  • the promotion of progressive improvement in understanding of the marine environment; and
  • the priority given to maintaining ecosystem health and integrity, especially in the case of uncertainty.


Three policy objectives or outcomes have been identified for the advancement of oceans management activities:

  • Understanding and Protecting the Marine Environment;
  • Supporting Sustainable Economic Opportunities; and
  • International Leadership.

Understanding and Protecting the Marine Environment

Successful oceans management depends on understanding the marine environment – an understanding that is predicated on solid science, which in turn depends on rigorous peer review. The ability to understand and protect marine ecosystems also depends on the ability to bring together the various disciplines of the marine sciences.

Science support for oceans management is important for delineating ecosystem boundaries, identifying key ecosystem functions and components, developing predictive models and risk assessment techniques, developing ecosystem-based management objectives, developing performance indicators, and assessing the state of ecosystem health. Modern oceans management requires integrating social and environmental information so that human activity is better factored into sound decision-making.

Other key information sources include the federal marine fleets, the fishing industry, community knowledge, and the traditional ecological knowledge shared by Aboriginal peoples.

Integrating diverse and complex information, supplemented by new research to improve understanding of the marine environment (particularly of marine ecosystems), contributes to the advancement and management of oceans resources. Sharing that knowledge with the Canadian public is an important element of enhancing public awareness and engaging public debate.

Protecting the marine environment is the corollary of improved understanding of the marine environment. The broadly defined stewardship responsibility is designed to ensure that resources of the oceans are managed wisely, respect the stated principles, and protect oceans for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. Protection must consider the degradation of the marine environment including, physical alteration and destruction of marine habitat.

Pollutants entering the oceans are also a major concern. Over 80 per cent of marine pollution is from land-based sources. Sea-based sources of marine pollution also warrant additional attention and action.

There are also unique, sensitive, and ecologically significant areas of the marine environment that require special protection and remediation. Recovery is urgent for marine species currently threatened or endangered, and for actions that keep healthy populations from becoming at risk.

The understanding and protection sections of the policy framework support the creation of a national network of marine protected areas and the establishment of marine environmental quality guidelines. These are two specific elements set out in the Oceans Act.

Achieving this objective, however, is much more than just establishing new programs. It requires new approaches to collaboration across and between governments, as well as new ways of doing business for those using oceans resources and the active engagement of Canadian communities, organizations, and citizens. (These aspects are discussed in greater detail in the subsequent section on Oceans Governance).

Supporting Sustainable Economic Opportunities

The conservative estimate of ocean industries' contribution to the Canadian economy is well over $20 billion a year. There is a very strong link between the sustainable economic opportunities objective, and that of understanding and protecting the marine environment. The health of the oceans is inextricably linked to the sustainability of economic livelihoods for coastal communities and Canadians generally. Support for sustainable economic opportunities also requires the development of a scientific knowledge base of oceans resources and development impacts. Under the Strategy, the Government of Canada will work with other levels of government, Aboriginal groups, industry and oceans stakeholders to develop this knowledge base and assess the economic potential for development. At the same time, the social, cultural and environmental impacts of development will be considered.

The conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources is one of the key goals within this objective. So too is the development of aquaculture in a manner that supports public confidence and industry competitiveness. Fisheries managers and scientists are developing a renewed approach toward management that is based on conservation, objectives-based fisheries management techniques within an ecosystems context. This requires working more closely with commercial, recreational and Aboriginal licence holders and fleet sectors to promote greater involvement in, and responsibility for, operational management activities.

Offshore energy and mineral resource development are already contributing to the prosperity of Canada, and have enormous potential. In addition to being an important element of the overall energy supply and energy policy, offshore energy developments are directly and indirectly helping to transform economies in many communities on the east coast and in the North.

The shipping industry is a key transportation mechanism in Canada and offers important social and economic benefits to Canadians. In the area of shipping, Canada harmonizes marine safety and environmental policies with international maritime law, and is a major supporter of the work of the International Maritime Organization.

Canada also has an important and innovative shipbuilding and industrial marine industry that is a critical component of the local economy of many coastal communities and, as well, provides industrial benefits for industries across Canada. The offshore oil and gas industry, which has continued to grow since early exploration in the 1960s, is generating increasing demands for vessels of all types, and for equipment related to both exploration and development. In addition, important Canadian service industries, such as sea-bed mappingmarine communications and data management, have economic and knowledge potential with the added benefit of a contribution to improved oceans management. Such industrial and knowledge management benefits underscore the necessity for an integrated approach and the collaborative arrangements set out in Canada's Oceans Strategy.

Many coastal communities in Canada, from major cities to small villages, are increasingly turning to their coastal areas to support economic opportunity. Opportunities range from small eco-tourismoperations to major cruise-ships and waterfront developmentsCanada's Oceans Strategy supports increased economic opportunities and commits to cooperation that supports its principles and objectives.

The Strategy also recognizes that all sustainable economic activities depend on the provision of a safe and secure operating marine environment. Without peace and security in Canadian ocean areas of jurisdiction, the wealth-generating opportunities presented by the oceans will not be realized by present and future generations.

Supporting sustainable economic opportunities is not without challenges. For example, conflicts are becoming more common over the most effective and sound uses of ocean space, most particularly in the near-shore. In addition, the cumulative effects of many stresses are not always considered and are difficult to assess. There is also an added challenge of understanding the dynamics of marine ecosystems and predicting future conditions. These challenges reinforce the need for the principles of integrated management, sustainable development, and the precautionary approach to support the sustainable economic opportunity objective. Costs of not implementing an oceans strategy include increased conflicts and competition for ocean space, lost economic opportunities and continued environmental degradation.

International Leadership

The third policy objective is International Leadership. Oceans, by their very nature, demand international management. International Leadership is about advancing Canadian and global ocean-related interests broadly and proactively. By influencing international priorities, decisions and processes, Canada can help ensure its sovereignty and security, sustainable ocean resources, and support social and economic interests. Canada's strong history of assisting other nations, particularly developing nations, in the sustainable development of their oceans will continue.

Several federal departments have international activities concerning oceans. It is recognized that no single department has the mandate, capacity or resources to implement all of the international oceans commitments. A high degree of consistency is required in order to maximize the returns from investments in international activities. A common understanding and consensus on international oceans priorities is necessary among federal government departments in order to advance a coherent international oceans strategy. The challenge ahead is to be more co-ordinated, better prepared and capable of responding to the many international oceans issues that demand immediate attention.

The United Nations Fisheries Agreement (UNFA) has emerged as a significant international agreement to complement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNFA specifically addresses the management and conservation of straddling stocks (those species that occur both within the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state and in the adjacent high seas), as well as highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas. Canada has ratified UNFA and intends to ratify UNCLOS once an effective UNFA enforcement regime has been established.

There are a number of other international legal instruments, institutions, processes and initiatives dealing with the full range of ocean issues that define the international environmental agenda. For example, Canada is an active participant in the development of a new global regime for the protection of underwater cultural heritage, an active supporter and participant in the United Nations Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea, and signatory to a number of International Maritime Organization conventions. In addition, Canada is an active participant in a number of international fisheries and oceans resource management organizations including the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the North Atlantic Salmon Commission (NASCO), the North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission (NPAFC), and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), among others. Continuing participation in these fora will assist in advancing ways of strengthening the effective global governance of the oceans.

The "Earth Summit" of 1992 (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) produced Agenda 21, the global blueprint for guiding the management of the environment and development. Canada has been working with other nations to fulfil the commitments of Agenda 21, and supporting international institutional arrangements and initiatives to meet its commitments to sustainable development goals. Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 is specifically devoted to oceans, and outlines principles and objectives for oceans management. The Oceans Act and Canada's Oceans Strategy represent a concerted effort to implement the Agenda 21 principles of sustainability, integrated management, and precaution. As such, the Strategy is a significant tool for addressing Canada's international sustainable development commitments.

The Oceans Act and Strategy will be presented to the international community at important fora, such as the World Summit on Sustainable Development, as a framework for integrated, horizontal ocean governance. This is just one way in which Canada will continue to ensure that oceans governance remains a focal point in global sustainable development discussions.

In the international context, Canada's Oceans Strategy supports and promotes effective governance and regulation, including the exercise of national sovereignty and security. The maintenance and preservation of sovereignty over national ocean space is recognized as a fundamental right in international law and is a priority for Canada. Within our maritime zones, a coordinated system of surveillance and monitoring ensures the Canada is cognizant of the maritime activities in progress. Strongly associated with maritime surveillance is the enforcement of national and international law within Canadian maritime areas of jurisdiction. Enforcement is fundamental to the protection of our sovereign rights and to the preservation of maritime order and security. The Oceans Act recognizes Canada's maritime jurisdiction through the definition of baselines, internal waters, the twelve nautical mile territorial sea, the twenty-four nautical mile contiguous zone, the two hundred nautical mile exclusive economic zone, and continental shelf in accordance with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. In particular, the Act confirms the authority for the enforcement of a federal law that is a customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary law within the contiguous zone. In addition, the Act grants authority to prevent entry into Canada, powers of arrest and search and seizure. A comprehensive national and international legal framework supports this requirement, as well as effective intelligence and enforcement capabilities.

It is important to highlight that a critical goal of this Strategy is the ability to ensure the safety and security of shipping and life at sea. Achieving this goal involves prevention through the prediction of dangerous conditions, the maintenance of safe and secure waterways, and the enforcement of Canadian sovereignty, and the capacity for emergency response that serves people, property and vessels in distress.

Canada's Oceans Strategy will respond to the challenge of providing the improved co-ordination and increased capabilities needed to address immediate and future international oceans issues.

Oceans Governance

Canada's Oceans Strategy in general, and oceans governance in particular, is much more than a federal government responsibility. It is a collective responsibility shared by all.

Accordingly, oceans governance under the Strategy has core commitments to:

  • work collaboratively within the federal government, and among levels of government;
  • share responsibility for achieving common objectives; and
  • engage Canadians in oceans-related decisions in which they have a stake.

Under this Strategy, oceans governance will advance in three specific areas. First, the federal government will develop, support and promote activities to establish institutional governance mechanisms to enhance coordinated, collaborative decision-making across the federal government and with other levels of government. The Strategy proposes to use new and existing mechanisms such as committees, management boards and information sharing to promote coordination in ocean management.

Second, the Strategy seeks to implement a program of Integrated Management planning to better engage partners in the planning and managing of ocean activities. As the cornerstone of the oceans governance approach, Integrated Management establishes advisory bodies that consider both the conservation and protection of ecosystems, while at the same time providing opportunities for creating wealth in oceans-related economies and communities. It brings together the environmental, economic and social considerations by planning for sustainable use.

Integrated Management involves comprehensive planning and managing of human activities to minimize the conflict among users. It also involves a collaborative approach and a flexible and transparent planning process that respects existing divisions of constitutional and departmental authority and does not abrogate or derogate from any existing Aboriginal or treaty rights.

The governance model proposed for Integrated Management is one of collaboration. It involves ocean management decisions based on shared information, on consultation with stakeholders, and on their advisory or management participation in the planning process. It is also based on institutional arrangements that bring together all stakeholders. Participants taking an active part in designing, implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of coastal and ocean management plans, and partners that enter into agreements on ocean management plans with specific responsibilities, powers and obligations. It is also recognized that in specific cases, Integrated Management and planning may be achieved through co-management.

The Framework proposes that an Integrated Management body will be composed of both governmental and non-governmental representatives with interests in a given ocean space. In coastal and ocean areas with relatively light levels of human use and impact, Integrated Management bodies may focus more on informing and consulting with local interests. In these circumstances, the Integrated Management body may mostly serve to facilitate information sharing.

As there is an increase in human activities and pressures on the marine environment, other arrangements will balance coastal and ocean uses with maximum social and economic benefits, while not exceeding ecological thresholds. In these circumstances, substantial effort will be directed towards maximizing participation of all interests and establishing an Integrated Management body whose role will be to provide decision makers with advice and also to assume part of the responsibility for implementation of the approved management plan.

Finally, the Strategy responds to the desire of Canadians to be engaged in ocean management activities by promoting stewardship and public awareness. Oceans stewardship means acting responsibly to conserve the oceans and their resources for present and future generations. Through stewardship initiatives, the government can encourage Canadians to volunteer and actively participate in the caring for ocean resources in meaningful and positive ways. Citizens also want to be engaged in decisions that affect them, and look for support for stewardship projects.

Canada's Oceans Strategy builds on an existing foundation of stewardship and public awareness activities and will continue to develop and promote national initiatives in these areas. This active participation is encouraged through the Integrated Management planning process, but also through more specific activities. Stewardship initiatives under the Strategy will be co-ordinated with others such as the National Stewardship Initiative and the Natural Legacy Agenda. As well, oceans stewardship initiatives are important for supporting Canada's international commitments under Chapter 36 of Agenda 21.

Industry is also interested in public/private sector partnerships that contribute to sustainable ocean use. Government roles in this relationship are to enable and encourage the public and private sectors to participate as completely as possible in helping to support sustainable ocean use.

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