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Science Response 2020/013

Assessment to support decisions on authorizing scientific surveys with bottom-contacting gears in protected areas in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence

Context

Canada is rapidly increasing the number of protected areas in its coastal and marine waters to meet international conservation targets. This has created an urgent need for approaches to determine which human activities will be allowed within these areas in light of site-specific conservation objectives and monitoring requirements. Scientific activities contribute information that can support conservation-related management decision-making within protected areas and in the broader ecosystem (e.g., advice for sustainable fisheries, species recovery, and ecosystem status). However, these same scientific activities can harm organisms, populations, assemblages and habitats within protected areas and therefore can hinder the achievement of conservation objectives. Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) national “Framework to support decisions on authorizing scientific surveys with bottom-contacting gears in protected areas with defined benthic conservation objectives” (DFO 2018) guides the impact-benefit evaluation of ongoing recurrent scientific activities (surveys) within protected areas. The Framework evaluates four main elements: 1) the potential impact of recurring survey activities within protected areas, 2) potential mitigation measures to reduce their impact, 3) benefits of survey activities to the management of protected areas, and 4) potential consequences to the scientific understanding and management of species and communities in the broader ecosystem caused by excluding sampling in protected areas.

This Science Response Report results from the Science Response Process of September 12, 2019 on the application of the framework to support decisions on authorizing scientific surveys with bottom-contacting gears in protected areas with defined benthic conservation objectives in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence (EGSL). The evaluation includes Marine Protected Areas (MPA) designated under the Oceans Act and fishery area closures under the Fisheries Act that qualify as “other effective area-based conservation measures”, also termed marine refuges. A more detailed evaluation is presented in Benoît et al. (2020a).

The assessment and advice arising from this process will be used to inform decision-making on authorizing recurring scientific surveys using bottom-contacting gears in marine protected areas and marine refuges in the EGSL. These decisions are under the purview of DFO’s Oceans and Resource Management sectors and will be made in consultation and collaboration with DFO’s Science Branch.

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