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Final Report of the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards

Submitted to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Final Report of the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards

Final Report of the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards (PDF, 2.36 MB)

September 26, 2018

Rémi Bujold and Mary Simon,
Panel Co-Chairs

David Anderson
Darcy Dobell
Tom Hayes
Marc Léger
Maureen Thomas

Table of Contents


In the Canadian context, we have found that there is a strong interest in doing the best possible job of protecting ecological values in areas that are not always, at present, fully protected. We have also found that there is a need for flexibility in Canada’s approach to marine conservation, and that a true framework for ocean management in Canada should include a spectrum of options, including highly protected areas, other spatial management tools, and Indigenous Protected Areas.

The recommendations that follow are grouped into four sections, outlining some of the steps we need to take to have a holistic, consistent, and inclusive framework for ocean management in Canada.

1. Collaborative planning and design

We have heard great support from experts and intervenors alike for MPAs and conservation goals. Few questioned their importance to our oceans’ health. Because the ocean is central to many Canadians’ livelihoods and ways of life, government decisions affect them significantly.

Some coastal communities felt that their way of life had been affected by government decisions around conservation and that their input was often too little, too late. Others told us that their participation was frequent but not meaningful or that they did not have the capacity to engage as equal partners. In some cases, Indigenous peoples were excluded from government decision-making or included without having any real influence.

Real collaboration cannot be rushed. The timing of consultation was an important concern that we heard throughout our process. Stakeholders told us that they were made aware of areas of interest late in the planning process and felt that their influence over the development and establishment of MPAs was marginal. They also told us they were not clear to whom they should communicate their concerns.

We heard strong calls from some stakeholders for the need to consider socioeconomic interests as MPAs are developed. We believe that this is an important point. Many Canadians’ livelihoods depend on their access to marine resources. There can be economic impacts of conservation measures on local communities. These costs are often borne at the local level while the benefits accrue to all Canadians. At the same time, there is a place for strong, consistent protections in the marine environment, and a real need for unique areas of high biodiversity and productivity to be conserved for the benefit of future generations. This does not mean that our entire ocean estate needs to be protected – it simply means that we must set aside spaces that are distinct from MPAs for industrial activities to continue.

Proper MPA design and network planning is more important than hitting numeric targets. MPAs that work together as part of a network are more successful in reaching conservation outcomes, accounting for connectivity between sites and enabling a full conservation picture to be seen. Network planning also provides flexibility for creative placement of no-take zones and enables MPAs to be placed in biodiversity hot spots, thus providing the best ‘bang for the buck.’

The main lesson we have taken from these perspectives is that process matters. Community support for conservation measures is an important predictor of their success and effectiveness. Following a robust process of MPA establishment and management can help to foster community support for these initiatives.

We are aware that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans recently studied the Oceans Act MPA establishment process and has developed a comprehensive suite of recommendations related to improving and enhancing this process. Our recommendations echo some of theirs and we have benefitted greatly from their work.

Based on the insights and advice we received, we recommend the following:

P 1. That the government be transparent with local communities, Indigenous peoples, and stakeholders from the beginning and throughout the marine protected area establishment process, and in ongoing management of marine protected areas.

P 2. That governance structures be tailored to regional and local authorities, and to existing arrangements such as treaties, settlement agreements, and reconciliation protocols.

P 3. That the government commit to open and transparent reporting on the success of marine protected areas, conduct proper assessment of existing marine protected areas, and engage Canadians in these activities.

P 4. That government departments work together to reduce complexity in their approach to developing networks of marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

P 5. That the government develop a central, open database or online platform for Canadians to easily access information including spatial information, conservation objectives, categorization, governance structures, scientific monitoring, and permitted activities for all marine protected areas.

2. Crown-Indigenous relations

Indigenous people play a central role in marine conservation as rights holders, not stakeholders. This is rooted in section 35 of the Constitution Act, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. More recent reports, including We Rise Together and A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model have reinforced the essential role of Indigenous peoples in managing and protecting biodiversity and its associated cultural, economic, and community values. Meaningful acknowledgment of the rights, knowledge, and authorities of Indigenous peoples will strengthen ocean management on all three coasts, to the benefit of all Canadians.

Indigenous communities possess a unique knowledge of and relationship to their environment. The Panel heard from a number of Indigenous representatives who shared some of these insights. Many intervenors stressed that Indigenous knowledge should be central to conservation efforts, noting that this knowledge has not always been incorporated meaningfully into governance, planning, and management decisions. At the same time, Indigenous knowledge is not a box to be checked. It needs to be incorporated respectfully and not co-opted or used unilaterally by non-Indigenous people. To address this inconsistency, we recommend:

CIR 1. That Indigenous knowledge be meaningfully integrated in all aspects of planning, design, management, and decision-making around marine protected areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, and other effective area-based conservation measures.

CIR 2. That the government recognize the importance of Indigenous peoples’ roles as full partners in all aspects of design, management, and decision-making around marine protected areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, and other effective area-based conservation measures.

The diversity of arrangements that exist between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in Canada was an important lesson from this process. We heard in depth about the unique relationships that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples have to the Crown. These relationships are structured by differences in histories, capacity, objectives and goals. In some cases, MPAs have been strictly government-driven, with Indigenous communities involved but without a leadership role. We heard about successful co-management approaches, initiated by the government or by Indigenous peoples, which depend on the willingness of both groups to come to the table in partnership to achieve a common MPA goal. At the other end of the spectrum is the emerging model of Indigenous Protected Areas, which are inspired and led by Indigenous peoples. The main implication of this diversity for marine conservation is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to Crown-Indigenous relationships will not work. Conservation initiatives need to account for this diversity.

We were struck by the flexible and progressive nature of a number of Canada’s co-managed MPAs and believe that the co-management model has continued relevance and value. This co-operative approach to area-based conservation is a welcome example of reconciliation between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Co-managed MPAs have developed into an important mechanism for marine protection for both the federal government and Indigenous peoples, and Canada should continue to build on these successes.

Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site is often cited as an example of a successfully co-managed MPA. First designated as a Haida Heritage Site in 1985, and subsequently as a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in 2010, the area is governed by the Archipelago Management Board, which has equal representation of federal and Haida leaders. The 2010 Gwaii Haanas Marine Agreement was signed concurrently with the federal designation of the area, formalizing cooperative management of the marine area. The site has created jobs for many Haida people through the Guardian Watchmen program, and has enhanced technical capacity for management and monitoring of the site. Haida principles are incorporated into the site’s management and are central to the management direction of the area. For example, the management direction for the site commits to continuing a living Haida culture through traditional use, commercial activities, and cultural programs.

Two Oceans Act MPAs in the Western Arctic are co-managed pursuant to the terms of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam MPA and Tarium Niriyutait MPA were identified as important areas by the Fisheries Joint Management Committee, and the federal government worked closely with the Inuvialuit to designate the sites as Oceans Act MPAs in 2010 and 2013. Fisheries and Oceans Canada works closely with the Fisheries Joint Management Committee and the communities of Paulatuk and Aklavik to co-manage the areas and to jointly provide guidance on management, monitoring and research decisions for the two MPAs.

The Indigenous Circle of Experts notes that one of the four governance types in the IUCN’s suite of recognized protected areas is governance by Indigenous peoples and/or local communities and highlights the fact that these types of areas could effectively contribute to Canada Target 1. It goes on to define the concept of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas:

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas are lands and waters where Indigenous governments have the primary role in protecting and conserving ecosystems through Indigenous laws, governance and knowledge systems. Culture and language are the heart and soul of an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area.

Indigenous Circle of Experts, We Rise Together: Achieving Pathway to Canada Target 1 through the creation of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. March 2018. p.35 IPCAs are also referred to as Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) which is the language that we use in this report.

A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model (authored by our co-chair Mary Simon) further describes the basic principles of the Indigenous Protected Area concept:

Indigenous Protected Areas are based on the idea of a protected area explicitly designed to accommodate and support an Indigenous vision of a working landscape. This kind of designation has the potential to usher in a broader, more meaningful set of northern benefits and bring definition to the idea of a conservation economy.

Mary Simon, Minister’s Special Representative (2017). A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model.

This Panel believes that Indigenous Protected Areas will play an important role in advancing Canada’s marine conservation objectives, and that more must be done to build a strong framework for Indigenous Protected Areas in Canada.

Convergence between Indigenous peoples and conservation, through a rights-based, custodian driven approach, would decolonize conservation and make a significant contribution towards Reconciliation.


Indigenous peoples’ authorities over terrestrial and marine environments have not always been respected. The recommendations that follow will help the government to strongly endorse the innovative concept of Indigenous Protected Areas. We adopt the three key elements of an Indigenous Protected Area as identified by the Indigenous Circle of Experts for the marine context:

  1. they are Indigenous led;
  2. they represent a long-term commitment to reconciliation; and
  3. they elevate Indigenous rights and responsibilities.

Indigenous Protected Areas can also deliver social and economic benefits to Indigenous peoples. As Mary Simon notes, “Indigenous Protected Areas have the potential to serve as a platform for developing culturally-appropriate programs and hiring of Indigenous peoples in a wide range of service delivery.” They can also contribute to “healing and reconciliation”.

At their core, Indigenous Protected Areas are:

We heard from many Indigenous intervenors that there is a strong need in their communities for healthy, educated Indigenous professionals who are well-equipped to develop and manage protected areas. Simply providing capacity is not enough to address this need. Stewardship and guardian programs that are linked to education and training opportunities can improve human well-being in remote coastal communities. The added benefit is that these can be tailored to specific community needs.

Investments in monitoring and stewardship initiatives can support conservation outcomes while also providing long-term employment and building capacity in Indigenous communities. Innovative financing arrangements and public-private partnerships offer new models to support long-term investments. We heard about a unique example of this type of arrangement from the Coast Opportunity Funds in British Columbia who are leveraging government, philanthropic, and conventional financing to support biodiversity protection, job creation, and the development of a vibrant conservation-based economyFootnote 8. Based on this, we recommend:

CIR 3. That the government identify long-term, permanent, and stable funding for marine protected areas, Indigenous Protected Areas, and other effective area-based conservation measures including through innovative financing mechanisms to support education and capacity for management through ongoing Indigenous coastal and marine stewardship and guardian programs.

Indigenous Protected Areas are Indigenous-led initiatives founded on Indigenous laws and governance. They do not depend on government recognition for their existence. That said, by appropriately recognizing Indigenous Protected Areas, Canada has a unique opportunity to uphold and support Indigenous peoples in a transformative way. None of Canada’s MPA legislation explicitly limits the opportunity for Canada to establish Indigenous Protected Areas with Indigenous peoples.

We have heard that recognizing this authority in law is one method by which to protect Indigenous rights. Canada has four pieces of MPA legislation that could enable this recognition if amended: the Oceans Act, the National Marine Conservation Act, the Canada Wildlife Act, and the Migratory Bird Convention Act. At the same time, we take to heart the message that it is not the Panel’s – nor indeed the Crown’s – business to dictate the design or content of Indigenous Protected Areas. The Panel recognizes that the conservation values that flow from Indigenous Protected Areas benefit all Canadians. This shared benefit brings a shared responsibility. Our recommendations aim to ensure that Indigenous peoples can count on Canada’s support for the successful and effective implementation of Indigenous Protected Areas, including for ongoing management, monitoring, and enforcement, while protecting their inherent right to self-determination.

We note the Indigenous Circle of Experts position that any marine-focused process should emulate and learn from their extensive work across Canada, while also recognizing that the Indigenous Circle of Experts was focused on terrestrial protected areas. We note further their Recommendation that examination of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the marine context should be Indigenous-led. We acknowledge that, while we heard extensive testimony on the subject of Indigenous Protected Areas from intervenors, our thinking on the matter should not be taken as a substitute for Indigenous-led process and the Crown’s duty to consult.

Based on the preceding, we recommend:

CIR 4. That the government create or amend legislation and regulations to recognize, accommodate, and support implementation of Indigenous Protected Areas.

CIR 5. That Indigenous Protected Areas be considered to count toward Canada’s conservation targets if they meet the standards of a marine protected area or other effective area-based conservation measure.

3. Protection standards

IUCN Categories and Standards

Ia Strict Nature Reserve
Category Ia are strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphical features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values.
Ib Wilderness Area
Category Ib protected areas are usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.
II National Park
Category II protected areas are large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor opportunities.
III Natural Monument or Feature
Category III protected areas are set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value.
IV Habitat/Species Management Area
Category IV protected areas aim to protect particular species or habitats and management reflects this priority. Many Category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category.
V Protected Landscape/ Seascape
A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant, ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.
VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources
Category VI protected areas conserve ecosystems and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area.

Source: IUCN, “Protected Area Categories System.”

There is a range of regulatory tools and authorities for oceans management in Canada. It is therefore important to have a consistent floor of protection standards as well as a way of tracking and reporting conservation outcomes in relation to national and international targets.

Canada Target 1 is expressed in percentage terms but these numbers are simply surrogates for the biodiversity values; these values should be the real objectives of a system of MPA. An MPA system of 10 percent of the total coastline and ocean area of a country, if located in areas of low biodiversity value, may actually protect a much smaller amount of the biodiversity of the total area, perhaps two or three percent. When it comes to the biodiversity values that an MPA is expected to protect, quality matters.

Many intervenors discussed the relationship between conservation and industrial activities. This issue was central to the Panel’s mandate and has wide-ranging implications for the future of Canada’s ocean resources. Marine conservation has recently become a pressing policy issue, as demonstrated most clearly in the government’s 2015 commitment to reaching Canada Target 1. As the government works to meet this target and increases marine protection in our oceans, there is an increased potential for protected areas to overlap with areas that have economic potential, whether for resource extraction, renewable energy potential, aquaculture, or marine shipping. Clear guidelines about the activities allowed and prohibited in protected areas can help to curtail the conflicts we see emerging from these overlaps.

The IUCN provides guidelines for addressing the differences among protected areas. Their suite of categories outlines the activities that are allowed in each type of protected area. The categories range in stringency from a category 1A “Strict nature reserve” to a category 6, a “Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources.” Intervenors told us about the importance of clear rules about allowable activities for their planning purposes and the importance of their consistent application for fairness across all ocean users.

There are three major advantages to following the IUCN management categories and guidelines as a base for a Canadian system. First, the management categories have been in use for some time, have a long history of interpretation, and are now a widely used system of classification. Second, their use in the international field provides consistency and the opportunity for meaningful comparisons between the marine biodiversity initiatives of Canada and other countries. Finally, the consistency offered by the IUCN categories also allows stakeholders and rights holders to engage more easily with government in an effective consultation process. The Panel therefore paid close attention to the IUCN management categories, and the Guidelines for their interpretation.

The IUCN guidance is clear that the purpose of MPAs is to protect biodiversity, along with associated cultural values and ecosystem services. Industrial activity that can damage that biodiversity is not compatible with the purpose of MPAs. The IUCN resolutions on industrial activity are captured in its current guidance documents which explicitly identify mining, industrial fishing, and oil and gas extraction as activities that are incompatible with MPAsFootnote 9.

Other types of protection can also make important contributions to conservation and biodiversity protection. Where these other management designations meet the criteria of OECMs, they can be counted alongside MPAs in Canada’s progress towards Target 1. Canada has established criteria for determining when management measures qualify as OECMs. The International Convention on Biological Diversity is also developing new guidelines on the subject, expected in November of 2018.

We believe that Canada’s approach to marine conservation should include highly protected MPAs that have a consistent national standard of protection, complemented by other management tools that can offer flexible approaches to combining effective biodiversity protection with economic development.

Therefore, we recommend:

PS 1. That the government adopt International Union for the Conservation of Nature standards and guidelines for all marine protected areas, therefore prohibiting industrial activities, such as oil and gas exploration and exploitation, mining, dumping, and bottom trawling.

PS 2. When industrial activities are allowed to occur in areas counted as other effective area-based conservation measures, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard must be satisfied through effective legislation or regulation that risks to intended biodiversity outcomes are avoided or mitigated.

4. Marine spatial planning

The Panel's Terms of Reference did not include consideration of ocean management processes and structures beyond marine protected areas, other effective area-based conservation measures, and Indigenous protected areas. Nevertheless, some presenters mentioned possible benefits from a wider approach in which MPAs, OECMs and Indigenous Protected Areas would be considered in conjunction with the wider issue of ocean planning beyond the protected area boundaries. By reason of its terms of reference and consequently limited hearing process, the Panel does not offer any specific recommendation in this regard.

Marine spatial planning is defined as "a process of analysing and allocating the spatial and temporal distribution of human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives that have been specified through a political processFootnote 10." In some of Canada's ocean areas, marine spatial planning could complement integrated management planning or other management approaches. On the other hand, there may be situations where knowledge gaps or institutional limitations make the marine spatial planning approach inappropriate. Given that uncertainty, we recommend:

MSP1. That the federal government consult with Canadians on potential approaches to marine spatial planning in each of Canada's ocean regions.

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