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

Table of Contents

2.0 A Canadian Policy For Integrated Management

Integrating a management approach to oceans involves considering impacts from a variety of activities at an ecosystem level. Ecosystems occupy geographic space, but their boundaries are open and may shift over time, contracting and expanding in reaction to such diverse influences as the invasion of organisms from other ecosystems, global climate change, currents that are ocean basin wide as well as local and, increasingly and pervasively, the effects of humans. Each ecosystem interacts and nests within other ecosystems. Local ecosystems, such as estuaries and bays, are sub-sets of larger ecosystems and as such they are interdependent. Irreversible shifts in these large-scale systems may in turn be triggered by local change.

Throughout history, marine and coastal waters have supported two major activities: harvesting and transportation. These continue to be vitally important, but other economic and social activities are gaining significance in the waters of Canada and other parts of the world. For example, aquaculture is becoming an increasingly important source of food, particularly as wild fish stocks decline. Likewise, oil and gas exploration and development is an expanding industry in a number of areas off Canada’s coasts. Meanwhile, oceans provide recreational opportunities and help make Canada a major tourist destination for the world. All such ocean uses make significant contributions to building the national economy and sustaining Canadian livelihoods.

Over the past century, agencies involved in managing oceans activities have been typically concerned with managing a single species or a single activity. This approach has fostered “boom and bust cycles" that have often depleted valuable resources and foreclosed the future options and benefits associated with the use of those resources. Too often resource development measures have proceeded independently, without full consideration of long-term, direct and indirect impacts in social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

Maritime and land-based activities have an impact on our oceans and coastal waters. Intensive fishing can deplete fish stocks, affecting not only the industry but also the habitats and ecosystems on which they depend. Shipping can disrupt the breeding, feeding areas and migration routes of marine mammals. Land-based pollution in the form of industrial effluent, agricultural run-off and human sewage can impose a burden on the ecosystem of the waters into which it flows, and may have implications for human health. Likewise, development along a coast can change the nature of the shoreline, and shoreline processes that may affect tourism and the biology of the area.

Equally challenging is oceans governance in the 21st century. It must establish decision-making structures 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. This is the essence of the integrated approach.

The Oceans Act provides a creative response to the challenge of oceans governance through its commitment to three important principles. Coastal States around the world are working to implement these principles – ones that are also at the heart of Canada’s Ocean Strategy. They are:

  • sustainable development of ocean resources,
  • precautionary approach as part of all operations, and
  • Integrated Management of ocean resources and activities.

Integrated Management brings together the environmental, economic and social considerations by planning for sustainable use. It offers a number of advantages:

  • Collaborative frameworks for oceans governance that support transparent and open dialogue, with flexibility, responsiveness and diversity because of the wide range of participants.
  • Integrated planning processes that gather input from scientific and traditional knowledge, vigorous public debate, monitoring, assessment and reporting.
  • New technologies and understanding of traditional ecological knowledge that become part of the approach.
  • New sets of information and new types of relationships that will promote wealth generation and assist in managing conflicts.
  • Efficiencies through an increased knowledge base, establishing effective networks and reducing regulatory delays.

Integrated Management will support diversified, balanced economic development of oceans and coastal waters by protecting their health, preserving their biodiversity and maintaining their productivity. It will also enable the values and benefits of ocean use to be realized through inclusive processes that build confidence and credibility among governments, Aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other ocean interests. These processes will balance protection of marine ecosystems and economic development potential and address uncertainty through appropriate levels of risk management including the precautionary approach, set pre-determined thresholds for action, promote investments in learning and secure commitments for protecting vital areas.

2.1 The Legislative Context

Canada led the world in 1997 when it passed the Oceans Act. It made a legislative commitment to a comprehensive approach for the protection and development of oceans and coastal waters.

Under international law, Canada enjoys sovereign rights in its waters, and in turn accepts its responsibility to the international community for sound governance, protection and preservation of the marine environment. The Oceans Act establishes the legal and policy basis for planning and decision-making in oceans and coastal waters, and recognizes that our three oceans are the common heritage of all Canadians. The Act commits Canada to promoting the understanding of oceans, ocean processes, marine ecosystems and marine resources. It also commits Canada to fostering the sustainable development of oceans and their resources while asserting that conservation, based on an ecosystem approach, is fundamentally important to maintaining biological diversity and productivity in the marine environment.

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, in particular for coastal communities.

To achieve these commitments, the Act calls on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans 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." (Appendix 1)

The Act also specifies that for the purposes of implementing these Integrated Management plans, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans:

  • shall develop and implement the specific policies and programs for which he/she has responsibility;
  • shall co-ordinate the oceans-related policies and programs of other Ministers, boards and agencies of the Government of Canada;
  • may establish management or advisory bodies (or recognise existing bodies);
  • may establish marine environmental quality guidelines, objectives and criteria and standards; and
  • will lead and co-ordinate the development and implementation of a national system of marine protected areas on behalf of the Government of Canada.

The Oceans Act recognizes that Integrated Management can increase the effectiveness of marine conservation and protection initiatives such as marine protected areas. It also recognizes the need for Integrated Management as a means to apply marine ecosystem health controls such as application of marine environmental quality standards. More than 23 federal departments have mandates that impact on ocean policies and outcomes. Provincial/Territorial jurisdiction and the settlement of Land Claims in near-coastal areas require not only close collaboration and co-operation among all levels of authority but also commitment to a common goal and management approach. In all instances, Fisheries and Oceans Canada must consult, co-operate and collaborate with: other federal, provincial and territorial authorities; affected Aboriginal authorities; coastal communities; and others who are affected by Integrated Management plans. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has significant responsibilities and expertise that contribute to the Integrated Management process. In addition to its role as oceans trustee, Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to be responsible for the wise management of fishery resources and habitats, marine safety and environmental protection, and the provision of science understanding and advice.

2.2 The Concept

Integrated Management is:

  • a comprehensive way of planning and managing human activities so that they do not conflict with one another, and so that all factors are considered for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and shared use of ocean spaces;
  • a collaborative approach that cannot be forced on anyone;
  • 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.

There are a number of essential elements involved in Integrated Management for an ocean or coastal area:

  • Planning on the basis of natural and economic systems rather than principally on political or administrative boundaries. This means Integrated Management plans may include more than one province or territory or span international boundaries;
  • Identifying ecosystem-based management objectives, indicators and management targets/actions to guide decision makers;
  • Acknowledging the interrelationships that exist between coastal and ocean uses and their potential impacts on the ecosystem in a way that overcomes the fragmentation inherent in the sectoral management approach;
  • Integrating data collection, research, synthesis, and information sharing, communication and education as part of the full range of relevant knowledge to be applied to the planning and decision-making processes. This includes scientific studies and local and traditional knowledge;
  • Creating a process to bring together affected and interested parties ( federal and provincial, territorial, regional or Aboriginal authorities, industry, coastal communities, and environmental groups, and citizens);
  • Building a process of collaborative and co-operative planning that takes essential elements from sectoral management so that new work is not always necessary. This process involves using existing legislation, respecting regulatory authorities held by governments, and incorporating enhanced management practices;
  • Using existing governance structures, or establishing new ones, that address multiple interest and user conflicts and encourage all resource managers to consider social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts of decisions;
  • Analyzing implications of development, conflicting uses, and interrelationships between natural physical processes and human activities, and promoting linkages and harmonization among sectoral coastal and ocean activities;
  • Identifying new opportunities for diversification and wealth creation, increased knowledge bases, supporting information networks and building capacity, confidence, trust and respect among participants;
  • Considering cumulative effects: the need to understand and consider the potential of current and approved future human activities and the associated cumulative effects:
  • Implementing Integrated Management plans using adaptive management techniques, with outcomes monitored against specific objectives and plans altered in accordance with findings; and
  • Harmonizing planning, management and regulatory policies and actions to increase effectiveness of sustainable development and conservation efforts.

2.3 The Principles

Integrated Management is guided by a number of principles:

  • Ecosystem-based management: Ecosystem sustainability and function is of primary importance. The identification of ecosystem-based management objectives and reference levels will guide the development and implementation of management to achieve sustainable development.
  • Sustainable Development: Environmental, economic, social and cultural values are taken into account - with the aim of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
  • The Precautionary Approach: The Oceans Act defines the precautionary approach as, “erring on the side of caution." There is further guidance in the federal government’s paper on the precautionary approach, “A Canadian Perspective on the Precautionary Approach/Principle." The Precautionary Approach is described as “a distinctive approach within risk management which primarily affects the development of management options and decisions. It is ultimately guided by judgement based on values and priorities. Guidance and assurance are particularly needed when there is a risk of serious of irreversible harm, the scientific uncertainty is significant and a decision must be taken."
  • Conservation: The protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of living marine resources, their habitats and supporting ecosystems are important.
  • Duty in Shared Responsibility: Governments, Aboriginal groups, coastal communities, industries and other persons and bodies affected by or affecting marine resources have a duty and shared responsibility for supporting the sustainable development of marine resources. This responsibility takes on different forms depending on where it sits. For instance, individual responsibility differs from the corporate duty of resource developers. Governments’ responsibility and accountability is more formal or mandated. Integrated Management principles respect existing responsibilities and jurisdictions, including those of federal, provincial, territorial, aboriginal and local authorities.
  • Flexibility: The implementation and monitoring efforts of many different authorities, organizations and interests are brought together and focussed on a jointly defined set of issues and objectives. A suite of legislative and regulatory processes and voluntary measures are relied on and co-ordinated, including those affecting fisheries, aquaculture, environment, transportation, oil and gas, and land use.
  • Inclusiveness: Coastal communities, and other persons and interests affected by marine resource or activity management, should have an opportunity to participate in the formulation and implementation of Integrated Management decisions because the objective is achievement of common goals. In this way, all interested and affected parties guide decisions from definition and articulation of goals to planning, implementation and evaluation.

Integrated Management and planning is essentially a simple and common sense approach to use, protect and conserve Canada’s oceans and coastal waters. Its development and application will benefit all Canadians and ensure that Canada continues to set an international example in the stewardship of its marine resources.

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