Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area (MPA)


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Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area

Map: Gilbert Bay Marine Protected Area

Dataset for all MPAs available.


Southeast coast of Labrador; Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves Bioregion.

Approximate Size (km2) contribution to Marine Conservation Targets

60 km2

Approximate % coverage contribution to Marine Conservation Targets


Date of Designation

September 2005

Conservation Objectives
  • Conservation and protection of the Gilbert Bay cod and its habitats.
  • Conservation and protection of the Gilbert Bay ecosystem.
  • Facilitation of scientific research opportunities in the Gilbert Bay ecosystem.
  • Promotion of public awareness, education, and support of the Gilbert Bay MPA.


The Gilbert Bay MPA Regulations prohibit activities that disturb, damage, destroy or remove from this Area, living marine organisms or any part of their habitat, unless listed as exceptions in the Regulations or approved by the Minister.

Environmental Context

The MPA provides long-term protection of the Gilbert Bay cod and its habitats. Gilbert Bay cod are a unique resident population of Atlantic cod, characterized by significant differences in the genetics, behavior, and physiology compared to other northern cod populations. The waters of Gilbert Bay also support a wide range of other marine species including shellfish, demersal and pelagic fish, and a wide variety of marine organisms and plants. The area is frequented by several species of waterfowl and marine mammals.



Gilbert Bay MPA

Gilbert Bay MPA

The Gilbert Bay MPA was designated in 2005 at the request of local stakeholders, to protect a genetically distinct resident population of golden cod in Gilbert Bay known as the Gilbert Bay cod. Scientists from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) initially began studying the Gilbert Bay cod in 1996. By 1998, a collaborative monitoring program was established by MUN and DFO with assistance from the NunatuKavut Fisheries Guardians. It was initially thought that the Gilbert Bay cod carried out their entire life cycle inside the MPA, but long term monitoring results have now shown that large (commercial size) Gilbert Bay cod move out of the MPA into Alexis Bay during the summer (June-September) to feed, where they overlap with Northern cod and associated fisheries.

Genetic studies provide evidence that chromosomal differences between Gilbert Bay cod and Northern cod are associated with marked differences in behavior and physiology:

  • Gilbert Bay cod are localized (non-migratory), and
  • Gilbert Bay cod are uniquely adapted to tolerate local environmental conditions that potentially kill cod of other populations
  • Gilbert Bay cod thrived in cold ocean in 1990s, while Northern cod declined

The waters of Gilbert Bay also support a wide range of marine resources including sea urchins, several species of shellfish (mussels, scallops, snails, shrimp), Northern cod, pelagic fishes (herring, capelin, salmon, eels, smelt, Arctic char) and aquatic plants (eel grass, kelp). The area is also frequented by several species of marine mammals and waterfowl including black ducks, geese and mergansers.

Management & Conservation

Management & Conservation

The results of the monitoring program have shown a steep decline in Gilbert Bay cod, particularly large (commercial sized) cod, since the reopening of the commercial and recreational Northern cod fisheries in 2006. Management strategies have focused on reducing fishing mortality of Gilbert Bay cod outside the MPA during the summer.

The impacts of climate change are also a concern. Gilbert Bay cod are adapted to thrive in cold (sub-zero) coastal waters that would deter other over-wintering species including Northern cod. Warming winter water temperatures may increase competition with and predation by other groundfish species.

Two loons and a cabin.

Two loons and a cabin. © DFO, Corey Morris.

Research vessel.

Research vessel. © DFO, Corey Morris.

Activity Application

Activity application for Gilbert Bay MPA

Gilbert Bay.

Gilbert Bay. © DFO, Corey Morris

Scientific and educational activities are allowed in the Gilbert Bay MPA if a proponent submits an activity plan to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for Ministerial approval.

Begin Activity Application process

Research and Publications

Research and Publications

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