National Framework for Establishing and Managing Marine Protected Areas

Work Document - March 1999

Approach to DFO's Marine Protected Areas Program

Need for Effective Partnering

The MPA program will seek the support of other federal ministers, boards and agencies, provincial and territorial governments, and affected Aboriginal organizations, coastal communities and other persons and bodies, including those bodies established under land claims agreements. Cooperation will be encouraged in all steps of the framework.

The concept of partnering is vital to the MPA Program its success depends on how well various interests are able to work together. Key program areas dependent on partnering include the gathering of information, the development of public awareness of environmental issues, the conducting of research, and the enforcement of regulations.

The number of interested parties, like the diversity of interests and uses, will vary with sites, regional needs and attitudes, and resources. The degree of involvement and responsibility of interested parties depends on the purpose of the MPA and its geographical location. Partnering arrangements in the MPA program will often involve many groups and interests as discussed below.

Coastal Communities and Non-Government Conservation Organizations

The MPA program provides an opportunity for communities, as well as local, regional and national conservation groups, to be involved in conservation activities in the marine environment. In coastal MPAmanagement, local organizations and communities will have the opportunity to play a prominent role, ranging from nomination and co-management of sites to consultation activities and public awareness programs. Organizations nominating an MPA could become a 'sponsor' for the site. A sponsor is an organization prepared to make a long-term partnering arrangement for managing the MPA.

Fishing and Aquaculture Interests

Fishing and aquaculture interests have an important investment in MPAs. It is essential to involved parties that fishing groups, including commercial and Aboriginal fish harvesters, recreational fishers, businesses, processing companies, and the fishing-dependent communities, play an active role in the MPA process.

Fish harvesters have always been strong proponents of conserving the marine resources upon which they depend. They have much knowledge to add to the scientific information that shapes the management approach. Experience suggests that MPAs need strong support from fishing interests, particularly if the MPAs will remove territory from fishing areas or restrict fishing. Support for MPAs grows when harvesters see the results of a successful MPA, or when they become involved in the many stages of the MPA establishment process. The development of the Canadian Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing Operations in Atlantic Canada complements the MPA process and encourages cooperative approaches to management of the fisheries resources.

Aquaculture is a fast-growing industry in Canada with an interest in the conservation of marine resources. Like the fishing industry, aquaculture will be closely involved in the consideration of individual MPA sites.

Aboriginal Communities and Organizations

Many Aboriginal communities and organizations have a strong interest in conserving marine resources for cultural, subsistence and economic reasons. Affected Aboriginal communities and organizations will be provided with an opportunity to participate in the establishment and management of MPAs. Working together will facilitate the sharing of scientific and traditional knowledge.. Special consideration will be given to traditional Aboriginal activities in marine areas in the planning and establishment of MPAs. Partnering arrangements will be encouraged to integrate Aboriginal interests into the MPA Program.

MPAs will be identified, designated and managed in manner consistent with Aboriginal land claims agreements.

Ocean Industries

The implementation of Oceans Act MPAs may restrict human activities in designated areas. Some current users of potential sites may have to be displaced in order to establish MPAs. As a result, many ocean industries, including oil and gas companies, marine mining interests, tourism, shoreline developers, shipping agencies, and other users, will have a direct interest in the development of an MPA program.

The MPA process will include consultations with affected users to ensure that their interests are taken into consideration during MPA planning and establishment. Many of these industries and users may wish to assume a long-term collaborative role in managing an MPA, assisting in activities such as enforcement and monitoring.

Provincial and Municipal Governments

In Canada, coastal provinces have varying degrees of jurisdiction over the seabed in inshore waters. Moreover, the provinces and municipalities are responsible for managing most of the land-based activities that affect the marine environment and potential MPAs: run-off (pollution), tourism, and shoreline development. Provincial legislation may be required or may be more effective in accomplishing the goals.

Federal Departments

With passage of the Oceans ActDFO joined two other federal departments, Canadian Heritage and Environment Canada, in having direct responsibility for the identification, designation and management of protected areas in the marine environment. The documents MPA Program Policy Statement and Working Together for Marine Protected Areas: A National Approach provide more details on how DFO will work together with these departments. Other federal agencies such as the Department of Transport, Natural Resources Canada, and the Department of National Defence will be consulted for assistance in addressing specific issues and in considering particular sites.


Cooperative agreements and joint planning exercises between Canada and its neighbours will be necessary in order to meet common conservation objectives. Highly migratory species such as whales have critical habitats located thousands of kilometres from Canadian waters and may require a network of protected areas throughout their range. Some potential marine protected area sites are shared with, or are in close proximity to, the United States. A similar situation exists in the Arctic, where Canada and Greenland have a common marine environment that requires protection. Canada and France (Saint Pierre and Miquelon) also share valuable resources on the east coast.

Information Sources

A major constraint in planning for MPAs is the limited understanding of the dynamics of our marine ecosystems. Where knowledge is limited, management decisions will be made on a precautionary basis. The MPA program will address information deficits by:

  • pursuing sustainable development, integrated coastal zone management, and the precautionary approach
  • using MPAs as a learning opportunity by applying the adaptive management principle
  • establishing a monitoring component as part of some MPAs
  • using MPAs as natural laboratories to conduct environmental research.

Information required to ensure sound management of MPAs will continue to be gathered. As part of its science mandate, DFO will continue to collect data for understanding oceans and their living resources, including hydrographic, oceanographic, fisheries, and other marine data. Provincial agencies are developing a number of coastal databases that will be useful for decision-making. Federal and provincial agencies are also cooperating in the assembly of coastal zone information management systems. Community and conservation groups may also have information that an MPA program can use in decision-making.

Monitoring programs will be established to determine whether the goals of individual MPAs have been effectively realized. Environmental parameters will be monitored to detect natural and artificial changes in environmental systems. These data are essential for demonstrating management success. If success is demonstrated, compliance with regulations and public support for additional MPAs would be expected to increase.

Ecosystem Overviews

Ecosystem overviews are studies used to characterize ecosystem types. They will enable MPAs to be developed in a systematic manner, assist in the evaluation and selection of MPAs, and contribute to initiatives such as integrated coastal zone management. They will normally consider large marine areas, coinciding with ecosystem domains rather than administrative regions of DFO or other agencies. As much as possible, they will include known marine ecosystems or biogeographic territories, such as the Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine, Strait of Georgia, Lancaster Sound, Hudson Bay and James Bay, or the marine portion of the St. Lawrence estuary.

Such overviews may include information on existing and proposed protected areas, existing and planned uses (fishing activities, resource extraction, recreation), environmental conditions, or ecological characteristics such as key species distribution and critical habitats. It may consider scientific and traditional knowledge. An ecosystem overview will provide important information for managing human activities affecting sensitive ecosystems, habitats, and species.

These overviews will consider existing and proposed MPAs from an ecosystems perspective. This includes consideration of how MPAs interact and support one another and contribute to a system of protection for sensitive resources and habitats. They will consider what additional measures and regulations may be required for protecting marine environmental resources in marine areas outside MPAs. Together with other responsible agencies, DFO may also use the ecosystem overviews to identify protection and conservation policies and actions for adjacent areas, such as habitat protection and enhancement, pollution control, land use controls, and coastal terrestrial park establishment.

The procedure for conducting ecosystem overviews will vary depending on the circumstances in each study area. These overviews may be updated from time to time as new and more detailed information becomes available.

Public Awareness and Education

Public awareness and education of DFO's Marine Protected Areas program is of the utmost importance. Successful partnering requires that interested parties are well-informed and knowledgeable. Also, the aims of the program must be clearly defined and understood.

The public awareness and education component of the program will require the development of a variety of materials for different audiences including schools, resource users, DFO and other government agencies, communities, and non-government agencies. A wide range of educational tools can be used, e.g., public meetings, brochures, booklets, and educational videos.

Effective education and stakeholder support can reduce enforcement requirements by:

  • encouraging participation by interested parties
  • creating an understanding that leads to better compliance
  • providing a forum, through the partnering arrangements, for addressing concerns


The intention is for the evolving MPA framework to be adaptable and to be phased in, thus providing practical experience in establishing and managing MPAs. The framework design will be constantly examined to consider ways of streamlining and adapting it to meet the needs of regions and stakeholders. The use of pilot MPA projects, as described below, will enhance learning and adaptation.

A number of pilot MPA projects will be identified early in the program to facilitate the evolution of the framework for establishing and managing MPAs. Much can be learned from consideration of such pilot sites. Pilot MPA projects will be used to test various aspects of the MPA Framework. For example, partnering and co-management opportunities and mechanisms can be explored; guidelines for evaluating proposed MPAs may be tested; coordination among other agencies or governments could be examined. Learning from these areas of interest will be an integral part of the development of DFO's MPA Program.

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