Summary of Public Review of draft National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas

The Government of Canada is working with the provinces and territories to conserve Canada's marine ecosystems through the development of a National Network of Marine Protected Areas. Canada has the world's longest coastline, three oceans, the Great Lakes and a sea of Arctic ice - all of which support an elaborate web of marine life.

Marine protected areas are effective in protecting plants, animals and habitats as well as enhancing biodiversity and improving the health and sustainable use of our oceans, Great Lakes and coastlines, while also contributing to Canadian coastal communities and industries. Canada has almost 800 marine protected areas, which together protect about one percent of the marine environment. Existing and proposed marine protected areas provide the foundation for building the national network of marine protected areas, which will be composed of a number of bioregional networks of marine protected areas.

A draft National Framework for Canada's Network of Marine Protected Areas has been created to provide direction for the design of the national network of marine protected areas. The National Framework is an important step towards meeting Canada's domestic and international commitments to establish a national network of marine protected areas by 2012.

1. Notifications

The draft National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas was posted on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada internet site for public comment, from 6 December 2010 to 25 February 2011 (81 days). This was the final step in a consultation process that began in August 2009. Government agencies, Aboriginal groups, industry stakeholders, non-government organizations, academics and others with a particular interest in marine protected area network planning were directly invited to provide feedback on the draft National Framework. Notices were posted in two e-newsletters to solicit feedback − the Atlantic Coastal Zone Information Steering Committee’s Coastal Update (http://aczisc.dal.ca/update.htm) and the international MPA News (http://depts.washington.edu/mpanews/MPA118.htm). Internet links were also made to the Government of Canada’s Consulting with Canadians web site (http://www.consultingcanadians.gc.ca) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada's national and Quebec Region twitter accounts (http://twitter.com/DFO_MPO and http://twitter.com/DFO_CCG_Quebec, respectively). Fisheries and Oceans Canada regional offices also drew this opportunity to the attention of more regional Aboriginal organizations, industry and non-government organizations.

2. Respondents

Some 31 anonymous comment forms were received via the Internet from individuals who identified themselves as having a particular affiliation (including general public). More substantive submissions came directly from 32 organizations, groups or individuals (seven from federal/provincial/local government agencies, including Offshore Energy Boards, seven from academia / university students, six from Aboriginal groups, six from non-government organizations, five from industry and one from the public at large). Generally, comments received ranged from “yes / no” responses to the comment form questions, to specific suggestions for wording changes within the National Framework document itself, to more conceptual feedback and policy questions.

The National Framework federal-provincial-territorial drafting team would like to thank everyone who submitted a comment, for taking the time to do so and for your helpful suggestions.

3. Comments

The overall message received was that proceeding with marine protected area network planning and establishment is important, though some questioned whether implementation of the National Framework would ever be adequately funded. There were requests for inclusion of clear timelines and firm commitments within the document. There was broad support for a network-building process that is inclusive, open and transparent, based on the best available traditional and community knowledge and science, and integrated with Canada’s broader ocean management initiatives. Many respondents commended the National Framework’s inclusion of internationally accepted and endorsed scientific recommendations for marine protected area network design. They encouraged an even closer adherence to the international guidance, citing for example adoption of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) definitions for a marine protected area and network of marine protected areas. The majority was pleased to see a more strategic approach being taken to marine protected area planning, and recognized that significant efficiencies and conservation benefits could be gained as a result.

Some respondents felt that conservation should take priority over socio-economic considerations, and some felt the opposite, but many recognized that these are interconnected rather than competing interests. Aboriginal groups expressed concerns about possible infringement of their constitutional rights and loss of access to marine resources; they also indicated that there would be capacity issues when it comes to their involvement in bioregional network planning. Industry and other ocean users were also concerned about loss of access to resources, and sought to have their interests with respect to licenses, regulations and other legal agreements better reflected in the National Framework. Most respondents recognized the role of marine protected areas in maintaining ecosystem function and integrity, with spin-off benefits to the fishing industry in particular. However, ocean users in general sought guarantees that compatible and sustainable industry practices would be allowed to continue, even within the protected areas (e.g., through zoning). Particularly in the case of non-renewable energy activities such as oil and gas development, assurances were sought that network planning would fit around their prime areas of interest whenever possible (e.g., by choosing the least conflicting of two possible protected area sites of comparable ecological merit, and by revisiting plans for new marine protected areas if valuable, non-renewable resources have been identified in the interim).

Assurances were also sought that the most appropriate marine management measure would be applied in each particular situation. It was noted that marine protected areas should not be used as the default mechanism for conservation, especially in situations where human impacts could be adequately mitigated and where more flexible management tools might best meet the conservation needs (e.g., seasonal fisheries closures). Conversely, some stated that not enough emphasis had been placed on the importance of protecting large, no-take, representative marine areas.

Finally, most respondents requested opportunities for community-level consultations and involvement once marine protected area network planning gets underway at the bioregional level, and many expressed an interest in being directly engaged from the beginning. There were also suggestions received to set up a scientific, non-governmental advisory body to help guide and bring national consistency to bioregional network planning, as some other countries have done.

4. Response

In response to the thoughtful feedback received on the November consultation version of the National Framework, a revised document has been prepared by the federal-provincial-territorial drafting team. While most of the general concerns summarized above were addressed in the guiding principles and other sections of the November draft, it was recognized that key concepts and approaches had not been clearly expressed. The drafting team also altered the structure of the document (e.g., reordered some entire sections to improve the flow; deleted text that was duplicative) and reworked text to be clearer and more concise – including the vision, goals and guiding principles.

Some of the more technical aspects of the document that were revised include a proposal to adopt verbatim the IUCN definitions of a marine protected area (MPA) and network of MPAs (with text explaining the implications of these definitions supported by a new annex); clarification of what would constitute “other marine conservation tools” in MPA network planning; revised eligibility criteria for screening potential network MPAs; and a revised description of ecological representation. Regarding the geographic scope of the network, a rationale was added for why the Great Lakes are included in the network, and the map of bioregions was replaced with one that also shows Large Ocean Management Areas (LOMAs).
A number of other changes were made to respond to concerns about how socio-economic considerations would be factored into MPA network planning. For example, the benefits and costs section was better balanced by reducing the text on ecological benefits and expanding the ‘costs to ocean users’ part. Text was added to clarify how socio-economic considerations would be taken into account in network design, and the governance section and eight step process for establishing bioregional MPA networks were also revised from a socio-economic perspective .

Finally a “next steps’ section was added in response to queries about implementation of the National Framework – the next phase in establishment of Canada’s network of marine protected areas.

5. Path Forward

  • Completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, as required under the 2004 Government of Canada’s Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals to ensure that environmental considerations are factored into decision-making, concurrent with consideration of economic and social factors (May 2011).
  • Finalizing the National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas through an approval process that includes sign-off by partner federal-provincial-territorial government agencies (summer-fall 2011).