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About marine spatial planning

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Our oceans are facing significant challenges from climate change, pollution, and demands on marine resources and spaces. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an internationally recognized process for managing ocean spaces. Similar to how urban planning guides the development of cities – like setting aside green spaces while allowing for commercial development – MSP guides the sustainable use of our oceans. It is being advanced in 5 planning areas across Canada.

Canada's approach to managing our oceans needs to take into account the vast amount of ocean space we have, our unique jurisdictional context, and the various rights and interests of our partners and stakeholders. We use MSP to achieve shared ecological, economic, cultural and social objectives in this environment.

In Canada, MSP includes engaging:

We are building on the knowledge, lessons and partnerships developed through our Integrated oceans management experiences, which were initiated with the passage of Canada's Oceans Act in 1996.

Marine spatial plans

A marine spatial plan is the document created through the MSP process. In Canada, we are developing plans that:

Marine spatial plans consider both economic and conservation aspects: they can identify potential areas for development and/or other marine activities, as well as areas that should be avoided or that may require special protection measures.

Participants in the MSP process will have opportunities to provide input or feedback at various points throughout the process. The more comprehensive the plan, the more benefits it can provide. For example, marine spatial plans can identify and address competing interests so that governments and industries can plan their activities sustainably and efficiently.

Our marine spatial plans will be adapted on an ongoing basis to reflect continual engagement and emerging priorities in the ocean environment.


The Government of Canada (GC) is committed to:

Under section 31 of Canada's Oceans Act, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has the authority to:

“lead and facilitate the development and implementation of plans for the integrated management of all activities or measures in or affecting estuaries, coastal waters and marine waters that form part of Canada or in which Canada has sovereign rights under international law.”

We have the lead role in coordinating a whole of government approach to oceans management. We are committed to working with other federal departments and provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments. Building successful governance structures with partners is an essential element of the MSP process and will be instrumental in developing marine spatial plans that reflect regional needs.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) regions continue to build relationships with Indigenous groups. Through established regional governance, they continue to engage on the concept of planning in the marine environment, with an initial focus on capacity building and gathering and mapping Indigenous KnowledgeFootnote 1, where feasible.

We support Indigenous communities to:

We carry out this work in accordance with our Reconciliation strategy, which supports the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Related information

Science and knowledge

DFO scientists are involved in various aspects of the MSP process. They help create an evidence-based and inclusive approach that draws on:

Scientific data contributes to the body of knowledge regarding ecosystems, stressors and impacts:

We gather data and knowledge from different sources and use it to generate additional insights, for example, through the creation of reports and maps. These products:

The many Indigenous cultures of Canada also hold knowledge in their languages, way of life and laws. Through our governance partnerships, we are working to enable the appropriate inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge throughout the MSP process.

Integration and sharing of science and Indigenous Knowledge will enable transparent, timely and effective evidence-based decision making.

International efforts

More than 75 countries in North and Central America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania are advancing ocean management using MSP. Approaches vary as each country has unique circumstances and marine environments.

A guiding principle for MSP internationally is to engage partners and stakeholders. An International Guide on Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning was developed to assist countries in implementing MSP.

MSP supports Canada's efforts to meet its commitments to the:

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