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Marine protected area (MPA) network development

The Government of Canada is making important progress on its marine conservation network. Federal Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislated authorities including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada are committed to working with provincial and territorial counterparts, First Nations and Indigenous organizations, industry and environmental non-governmental organizations to build a national network of MPAs and other conservation areas.


Canada's National Network

Canada's national network of MPAs will be composed of 13 networks that share a common foundation (vision, goals, principles, design and eligibility criteria, management approach, and so on). The 13 networks will be created in spatially-defined bioregions (CSAS SAR - 2009/056) that cover Canada's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Great Lakes. A bioregion is a biogeographic division of Canada's marine environment based on ecological attributes.

A Policy Framework for Canada's National Network of MPAs has been approved in principle. This document sets the policy direction for establishing a national network of MPAs that conforms to international best practices and targets conservation objectives identified through existing integrated oceans management processes.

MPAs and Integrated Management

Developing MPAs through an integrated management process widens the scope within which the MPA is considered. Integrated management provides an opportunity to address stakeholder input in a fair and balanced process, develop MPA conservation objectives with links to broader ecological, social, economic and cultural objectives and reinforce conservation measures with complementary management measures employed in surrounding areas. Including MPAs within broader planning initiatives can help maximize the conservation effectiveness and ensure the long term success of the MPA.


Pacific Bioregional Network

A cooperative and collaborative approach is being implemented by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Province of British Columbia, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, and Natural Resources Canada for planning, establishing and managing marine protected areas in the Pacific.

DFO is working with the Marine Protected Areas Implementation Team (MPAIT) to develop a Regional MPA Strategy that will identify high-level objectives for all bioregions in the Pacific Region.

Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy

Gulf of St. Lawrence

Marine Protected Area Network Strategy for the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence Bioregion


The important role of marine protected area networks in providing long-term conservation of marine biodiversity, ecosystem functions and special natural features is reflected in provincial, territorial, national and international commitments made by various government authorities. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is combining its efforts with those of other federal departments and the provinces (bordering the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence) with mandates, expertise or interest in establishing marine protected areas. The Oceans Act states:

“For the purposes of integrated oceans management, the Minister (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) will lead and coordinate the development and implementation of a national system (network) of Marine Protected Areas.”

This task is carried out on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Aboriginal groups and interested parties will be engaged in a marine protected area network development covering the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence Bioregion. This initiative contributes to the continuing implementation of the Gulf of St. Lawrence Integrated Management Plan published in 2013.

A platform for the coordination of efforts is needed at both national and regional levels. Wherever possible, the existing governance structures will be utilised. The various departments, each with different mandates, conservation measures and legal statutes, will be involved in network development. It is therefore necessary to establish a common basis for achieving the network objectives in a coordinated, coherent and effective way.

This strategy is developed as a guiding framework, designed to provide a comprehensive understanding for partners involved in the development of a Marine Protected Area Network in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence Bioregion. It outlines the guidance needed to establish a marine protected area network in accordance with national and international recommendations and practiceswhile incorporating the visions and goals of the provinces and the Government of Canada. The strategy is also designed to standardize and clarify terminology and harmonize the various approaches to developing the marine protected area network.

The initialisms and acronyms used are presented at the beginning of this document, and key terms are defined in the glossary (Appendix 1).

For more information, please visit: Marine Protected Area Network Strategy for the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence Bioregion

Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy

Marine Conservation Network Development for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion

A process is underway to develop a Marine Conservation Network Plan for the coastal and offshore waters of the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion. The Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion approximately coincides with the DFO Maritimes Region administrative boundary (see map) and includes the Scotian Shelf, the Bay of Fundy and the Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

Map of the Scotian Shelf Bioregion (depicted using DFO Maritimes Region boundary)

Map of the Scotian Shelf Bioregion (depicted using DFO Maritimes Region boundary)


Map of coastal and offshore waters of the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion, DFO Maritimes Region administrative boundary, and the Scotian Shelf, Bay of Fundy and the Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

Background and purpose

Marine ecosystems are under increasing pressure from a wide range of human activities and broader environmental changes. Around the world, MPAs and other spatial conservation measures are recognized as a valuable tool for the protection of marine ecosystems that can help to achieve a better balance between human use and conservation in our oceans.

The Conservation Network Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion will identify areas for potential future conservation and is being developed in collaboration with federal partners. Input from the provinces, First Nations and Indigenous organizations, stakeholders and the general public is critical to the development of the plan and has helped shape the conservation network development process to date.

The conservation network will include individual sites of various shapes, sizes and protection levels – each with its own conservation objectives. Existing protected areas, such as: 

  • Oceans Act MPAs,
  • certain Fisheries Act measures (e.g. Marine Refuges that protect corals and sponges),
  • National Wildlife Areas under the Canada Wildlife Act, 
  • National Marine Conservation Areas and
  • other spatial measures with sufficient biodiversity protection.

are important components of the bioregional network.

The bioregional conservation network planning process does not determine the specific management measures that will be put in place for each of the sites in the network plan. Management measures will be based on the conservation objectives for each area and will be determined through separate site-specific designation processes that will include additional consultations. Every conservation area is unique and not all areas restrict all fishing activity. Certain types of fishing like inshore lobster and other low-impact activities, such as eco-tourism or recreational boating, are often allowed to continue in MPAs and other conservation areas depending on the conservation objectives of the site.

The intent is that the final Marine Conservation Network Plan will guide the selection of new MPAs and other conservation areas in the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion. New regional sites will contribute to the national marine conservation targets of protecting 25% of Canada’s coastal and marine area by 2025, working toward 30% by 2030. Selecting new MPAs and conservation areas, based on a clear, detailed plan is more efficient than identifying and designating areas on an ad hoc basis and will provide greater certainty to marine resource users for the future. Overall, a network provides more comprehensive protection than can be achieved by any single site.

The overarching goal of the Marine Conservation Network is to provide long-term protection of marine biodiversity, ecosystem function and special natural features in the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion. More specifically, the conservation network aims to achieve the following objectives:

  1. protect unique, rare, or sensitive ecological features in the bioregion
  2. protect representative examples of identified ecosystem and habitat types in the bioregion
  3. help maintain ecosystem structure, functioning and resilience within the bioregion
  4. contribute to the recovery and conservation of depleted species
  5. help maintain healthy populations of species of Indigenous, commercial and/or recreational importance


Work on the draft conservation network design for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion (draft design) has proceeded over the last decade through a systematic process that is grounded in science but also considers socioeconomic and cultural information and has included engagement with government partners, First Nations and Indigenous organizations, Stakeholders and coastal communities.

The current Areas of Interest (Fundian Channel-Browns BankEastern Shore Islands) and the proposed Marine Refuge (Eastern Canyons) were identified through the draft bioregional conservation network design and are intended to contribute to the national marine conservation target. Each of these sites are unique and have a separate consultation and engagement processes.

The department completed the targeted engagement phase for the draft Marine Conservation Network Plan on March 31st, 2022. During this phase, DFO sought feedback on the initial design from other federal agencies, the Provinces of NS and NB, First Nations and Indigenous organizations and key stakeholder groups, including fishing, aquaculture, oil and gas and shipping industries, as well as ENGOs and academia.

Over the next several months, the department will work to review the feedback and, where necessary, schedule follow-up meetings with those involved in the initial engagement phase to better understand their comments and concerns. DFO will also produce a summary of the feedback to be shared with partners and stakeholders.

Revisions to the current draft network design will also be considered. Changes could include boundary revisions of a proposed site within the network to better protect a certain species or habitat, or minimize overlap with certain types of human activities in an effort to reduce potential future socioeconomic impacts. Adjustments could also be made based on the latest research and information available.

The revised draft of the conservation network design is expected to be completed by spring 2023. The department will then launch a broader engagement phase with the goal of gathering further feedback from coastal communities, partners, stakeholders and the Canadian public. All feedback will be considered and incorporated as appropriate in working towards a final Marine Conservation Network Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion for 2024.

After the network plan is finalized in 2024, it will be adapted as needed to incorporate new information such as Indigenous traditional knowledge and the latest scientific findings. Implementation of the network plan (i.e., designation of individual sites) will occur over the long term.

The plan will be aligned with a future Marine Spatial Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion. Marine spatial planning offers a practical way to coordinate marine use by taking into account the breadth of activities over time for a given area (e.g. cultural use, fishing, conservation, industrial activities, etc.) and establishing forward-looking plans to ensure effective overall management.

Timeline for developing the Conservation Network Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion – updated November 2021

Timeline for developing the Conservation Network Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion – updated November 2021

  1. 2022
    • Phase 1: Target engagement and consultation
    • 1b: Stakeholders
    • 1a: Partners
  2. 2023
    • Revise draft network design
    • Phase 2: Public engagement and consultation
  3. 2024
    • Finalize conservation network plan

For more information

Please contact us at:

Marine Planning and Conservation Program
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Additional links

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