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Science Response 2019/022

A Regional Assessment of Ecological Attributes in Rockfish Conservation Areas in British Columbia


The Inshore Rockfish Conservation Strategy was developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in 2001 to help address the precipitous decline of inshore rockfish species. The Strategy focused on improving four areas of rockfish fisheries management:

  1. account for all inshore rockfish catch,
  2. decrease fishing mortality on inshore rockfish,
  3. establish areas closed to fishing, and
  4. improve inshore rockfish stock assessment and monitoring.

Under the Fisheries Act, DFO designated RCAs as harvest refuges (fishery closures or marine refuges) where commercial and recreational fisheries with direct and incidental catch of inshore rockfish were restricted to decrease fishing mortality of exploited inshore rockfish populations within RCA boundaries and provide opportunities for these species to rebuild. In addition, RCAs protect rockfish habitat from impacts of fishing activities caused by certain types of bottom contact fishing gear. All 164 RCAs, totaling approximately 4,800 km2, were established by 2007 and they protected 28% and 15% of modelled rockfish habitats in the Inside and Outside Management Areas (Figure 1), respectively (Yamanaka and Logan 2010). The design was considered to be a ‘network’; it was believed many smaller areas located close together would facilitate movements of larvae and adults between protected areas, and provide spillover to adjacent areas open to fishing.

In 2010, the Government of Canada agreed to conserve at least ten percent of Canada’s coastal and marine areas through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020 (United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11; Government of Canada 2011). Since then, Canada has reaffirmed this international commitment for Canada. In 2016, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced a plan to reach our domestic marine conservation targets of protecting five percent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017 and ten percent by 2020. Five areas of action to support reaching Canada’s marine conservation targets have been laid out, one of which is the advancement of “other effective area based conservation measures” (OEABCM) by identifying existing OEABCMs and by establishing new ones.

Operational Guidance for Identifying ‘Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures’ in Canada’s Marine Environment (DFO 2016a) has been developed to ensure that a “consistent and science-based approach to identifying and reporting on marine OEABCMs that contribute to Canada’s international and domestic marine conservation targets” is used. The guidance has been informed by international direction (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Convention on Biological Diversity; Convention on Biological Diversity 2010), domestic discussions, and DFO science advice (Canadian Council of Ecological Areas; DFO 2016b), and identifies five criteria that area-based management measures must meet in order to be considered as OEABCMs:

  1. clearly defined geographic location,
  2. conservation or stock management objectives,
  3. presence of ecological components of interest,
  4. long-term duration of implementation, and
  5. the ecological components of interest (the important habitat and species identified) are effectively conserved.

In 2016, DFO Fisheries Management conducted a preliminary review of RCAs to evaluate them against OEABCM criteria; however, limited time and data were available and a formal risk assessment was not completed. Consequently, RCAs were initially screened out of the OEABCM process and therefore did not contribute to the 2017 marine conservation targets of five percent protection. Nevertheless, RCAs have the potential to meet the 2020 marine conservation targets of ten percent protection if they can meet all OEABCM criteria. Furthermore, it has been at least 11 years since RCAs were first implemented and it is therefore timely to review their conservation effectiveness and assess whether conservation benefits of particular RCAs can be enhanced by changing configurations or locations. Such changes in boundaries or locations, along with other management tools and measures, may help some RCAs meet all OEABCM criteria.

In 2016, DFO Fisheries Management requested Science Branch identify RCAs that might benefit from changes to their boundaries or locations to better protect inshore rockfish and their habitats. Specifically, they asked Science to “re-evaluate RCA locations given new habitat information / ground-truthing / modeling methods / etc. to estimate the percent coverage of inshore rockfish habitat in Inside and Outside waters (Figure 1), and to identify RCAs that could be moved, altered, or eliminated in order to better protect inshore rockfish habitat.” Given the diversity of RCAs throughout the region and the lack of survey data in many areas, additional assessments need to be conducted on an individual RCA basis. As such, this assessment of ecological attributes in RCAs is considered to be the first phase of this request. Complimentary research is a qualitative risk assessment that identified those permitted human activities which may inhibit RCAs from fulfilling their conservation objectives.

Advice arising from this Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Science Response and Research Document will be used to inform the management of RCAs to ensure conservation objectives are being met. The evaluation will help identify potential measures that may be implemented to support RCAs in achieving their conservation goals and also allow certain RCAs to meet all OEABCM criteria by 2020 and, thus, contribute to marine conservation targets. Results from this research will help inform consultations with First Nations and stakeholders regarding potential changes to existing RCAs.

This Science Response Report results from the Science Response Process of July 2018 on the Assessment of ecological attributes in Rockfish Conservation Areas in British Columbia.

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