Policy and Operational Framework for Integrated Management of Estuarine, Coastal and Marine Environments in Canada

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Canada’s estuaries, coasts and oceans are the focus of major economic activity, and are an integral part of the country’s culture and identity. The coastline of Canada is the longest of any in the world, and its seabed represents an area two-thirds the size of its landmass. Oceans support commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, marine recreation and tourism, aquaculture, shipping and transportation, and a variety of other economic uses that directly contribute over $20 billion a year to Canada’s economy. Oceans also support high technology and pharmaceutical industries, potential mining opportunities, and scientific and technical research.

The Oceans Act calls on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to lead and facilitate the development of a national oceans strategy that will guide the management of Canada’s estuarine, coastal and marine ecosystems. Canada’s Oceans Strategy provides the overall strategic framework for Canada’s oceans-related programs and policies, based on the principles of sustainable development, Integrated Management and the precautionary approach. The central governance mechanism of the Strategy is applying these principles through the development and implementation of Integrated Management plans.

The Policy and Operational Framework for Integrated Management of Estuarine, Coastal and Marine Environments in Canada is intended as a working document for Canada’s oceans community. It is intended to foster discussion about Integrated Management approaches by setting out policy in the legislative context, along with concepts and principles. The document also proposes an Operational Framework with governance, management by areas, design for management bodies and the type of planning processes that could be involved.

Policy Context

Marine and land-based activities have an impact on coastal waters and oceans waters. Intensive fishing, shipping, land-based pollution and development all have an impact on coastlines and ocean waters. An Integrated Management approach to oceans-related activities requires consideration of the impact that a variety of activities may have at an ecosystem level. Integrated Management establishes advisory bodies that consider both the conservation and protection of ecosystems, while at the same time providing opportunities for creating wealth in oceans-related economies and communities. It brings together the environmental, economic and social considerations by planning for sustainable use.

Legislative Context

With the passage of the Oceans Act in 1997, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to make a legislative commitment to a comprehensive approach for the protection and development of oceans and coastal waters. To reinforce this approach, the Act calls for the wide application of the precautionary approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of marine resources. It also recognizes the significant opportunities offered by the oceans and their resources for economic diversification and the generation of wealth for the benefit of all Canadians, particularly those in coastal communities. To achieve these commitments, the Act calls on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to lead and facilitate the development of plans for Integrated Management.

Integrated Management Concept

The Integrated Management concept involves comprehensive planning and managing of human activities to minimize the conflict among users; a collaborative approach that cannot be forced on anyone; and a flexible and transparent planning process that respects existing divisions of constitutional and departmental authority, and does not abrogate or derogate from any existing Aboriginal or treaty rights.

Integrated Management Principles

The principles guiding Integrated Management include: ecosystem-based management, sustainable development, the precautionary approach, conservation; shared responsibility, flexibility and inclusiveness. In essence, Integrated Management and planning is a simple and common sense approach, representing a modern and qualitatively different way to use, protect and conserve Canada’s oceans and coastal waters.

Operational Framework

The Canadian approach to Integrated Management recognizes that management objectives and planning practices must reflect that ecosystems nest within other ecosystems. As a result, the governance model proposed for Integrated Management is one of collaboration. It involves ocean management decisions based on shared information, on consultation with stakeholders, and on their advisory or management participation in the planning process. It is also based on institutional arrangements that bring together all stakeholders. Participants take an active part in designing, implementing and monitoring the effectiveness of coastal and ocean management plans, and partners enter into agreements on oceans management plans with specific responsibilities, powers and obligations. 
It is also recognized that in specific cases, Integrated Management and planning may be achieved through co-management. In areas where there are settled land claims, co-management will be the preferred approach.

Management Bodies

The Framework proposes that an Integrated Management body will be composed of both governmental and non-governmental representatives with interests in a given ocean space. The ultimate objective is to establish Integrated Management plans for all of Canada’s coastal, estuarine and marine waters. In the short term, Integrated Management planing will need to reflect the intensity of ocean use activities and the capacity and interest of participants to engage in the process.

In coastal and ocean areas with relatively light levels of human use and impact, Integrated Management bodies may focus more on informing and consulting with local interests. In these circumstances, the Integrated Management body may mostly serve to facilitate information sharing. 
As there is an increase in human activities and pressures on the marine environment, other arrangements will balance coastal and ocean uses with maximum social and economic benefits, while not exceeding ecological thresholds. In these circumstances, substantial effort will be directed towards maximizing participation of all interests and establishing an Integrated Management body whose roles will be to provide decision-makers with advice and also to assume part of the responsibility for implementation of the approved management plan.


The Integrated Management planning process involves six inter-related stages:

  1. defining and assessing a management area;
  2. engaging affected interests;
  3. developing an Integrated Management plan;
  4. receiving endorsement of the plan;
  5. implementing the plan; and
  6. monitoring and evaluating outcomes.

Progression through these stages is not necessarily linear, but there is general movement towards a proactive management approach as the process matures.


While Canada’s long term goal is to develop a system of nested Integrated Management plans for all of its marine waters, and to establish within these a national network of marine protected areas, there is clearly a need to establish short term priorities.

This need can be met through the shift from a single species or single industry management approach towards a broader, more inclusive method of managing ocean resources and spaces. This shift must have investments of time, resources and effort, but the Integrated Management approach will, in the end, benefit all those who use and depend on Canada’s oceans with an eye toward preserving them for future generations.

Date modified: