Marine protected area (MPA) network development

The Government of Canada is making important progress in expanding its network of MPAs. Federal MPA legislated authorities are committed to working with provincial and territorial counterparts, Aboriginal groups, industry and environmental non-governmental organizations to build a national network of MPAs.


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

Maritimes Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network Development

A process is underway to develop an MPA network in the coastal and offshore waters of the Scotian Shelf Bioregion. The Scotian Shelf 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)

An MPA network plan for the Scotian Shelf Bioregion will identify potential areas for future conservation and will be developed in collaboration with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada. Input from the provinces, First Nations, Indigenous organizations, stakeholders, and the general public are critical to inform the development of the MPA network plam.

The MPA 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. Conservation Areas to protect corals and sponges), and other spatial measures with sufficient protection of biodiversity will also be included in the network.

The MPA network plan will ultimately guide the selection of new protected areas in the Scotian Shelf Bioregion. Implementing new MPAs 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.

Network 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 Aboriginal, commercial and/or recreational importance


As a first step, human use and ecological information have been collected to support the development of a draft MPA network design. Initial engagement with other government departments, provinces, First Nations, Indigenous organizations, key stakeholders, and the general public has occurred and will continue leading up to the release of a Draft MPA Network Design for the Scotian Shelf Bioregion (Draft Design) in 2018. Consultations on the Draft Design will be held for one year and a finalized network plan for the Scotian Shelf Bioregion will be released in 2019. Implementation of the network plan (i.e., designation of individual sites) will occur over the long-term. For each site identified in the plan (not including existing sites), further consultations to determine boundaries and allowable activities will occur prior to designation.

(Map of the MPA network development process)

(Map of the MPA network development process)

For more information, please contact us:

Oceans and Coastal Management Division
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Phone: 902-426-9919

Additional links: Marine protected areas (MPAs), areas of interest (AOIs) and other measures

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