National Framework for Establishing and Managing Marine Protected Areas

Work Document - March 1999

Framework to Establish and Manage MPAs

This section describes the framework for the establishment of individual MPAs. In the framework, an areas of interest (AOI) is a marine area proposed for MPA designation under the Oceans Act. Once an AOI has been recommended for establishment, it will be referred to as an MPA candidate site.

Framework to establish and manage individual MPA(see Figure 1)

  • Step 1: Identification of Areas of Interest (AOIs)
  • Step 2: Initial Screening of AOIs
  • Step 3: AOI Evaluation and Recommendation
  • Step 4: Development of a Management Plan for Candidate MPA Site
  • Step 5: Designation of MPA
  • Step 6: Management of MPA

In some cases, steps may be taken concurrently or out of sequence.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for recommending whether the Governor in Council should designate an MPA. To arrive at this recommendation, the Minister will make use of the framework, consulting as necessary with the public and other government agencies.

This National Framework allows for regional flexibility in establishing and managing MPAs. To reflect these differences, DFO Regions may develop specific guides to suit local marine conservation and protection needs. Regional guides must be consistent with the National Framework and may contain additional information on the steps and matters such as public input and consultations

Step 1: Identification of Areas of Interest (AOIs)

The first step in establishing a system of MPAs is to identify potential sites.


Opportunities will exist for DFO, other government agencies, community groups, coastal communities and Aboriginal organizations, the fishing sector, environmental organizations, academic institutions, other stakeholders and the general public to participate in identifying AOIs within various initiatives. These initiatives may include:

  • ecosystem overviews
  • integrated coastal zone management processes
  • fisheries management planning
  • individual stakeholder proposals
  • other approaches

The MPA program will accept nominations of areas for consideration as MPAs. This route provides an opportunity for interested groups to work with DFO in identifying possible MPA sites. Groups wanting to propose an areas of interest should contact DFO as soon as possible.

Over the longer term, there is a need for a systematic approach to identifying a network of MPAs that reflects all the purposes identified in the Oceans Act. This may be achieved through ecosystem overviews (see p. 7). The overviews will assist in the selection and evaluation of MPAs, particularly those areas recommended by the public.

Step 2. Initial Screening of AOIs


The initial screening step involves an assessment of an AOI to determine if it should be evaluated in more detail. Suggested AOIs will be screened to ensure that the purposes stated for the proposed areas of interest conform to the reasons stated for MPAs under the Oceans Act (see Table 1).

Information required

At this stage, detailed information is not necessary. Some types of information that may be needed include:

  • the location of the proposed AOI
  • an outline of the purposes and rationale for establishing an MPA in this location and how these relate to Section 35 of the Oceans Act
  • a brief biophysical description and socio-economic profile of the AOI and surrounding areas
  • the types of management measures and regulations that might apply to the area
  • the suggested involvement of stakeholders or sponsors in the future management of the area
  • contact person, group or agency leading or facilitating the MPA process
  • additional information, if required
AOI List

Proposed areas of interest that may qualify for MPA status (see Table 1, Reasons for Establishing MPAs under the Oceans Act) will be placed on a AOI List. The AOI List will be made available to the public.

Areas that are on the AOI list will be monitored to ensure that the ecological integrity of an area remains intact while awaiting a final recommendation concerning MPA status. Where it is believed that the ecological integrity of an AOI is being threatened by activities, interim protection measures may be implemented.

Interim Protection

The identification of a site as an AOI does not provide immediate protection to an area. If an important site appears to be threatened at any step during the evaluation of an AOI, the Government of Canada or other levels of government may impose interim measures to conserve and protect potentially affected resources and habitats.

Interim protection measures

Governments have various measures for protecting marine resources and habitats on an interim or longer-term basis. Some examples include:

  • broad notification of stakeholders to discourage uses which conflict with the purpose of the AOI
  • partnering arrangements with industry and other stakeholders to protect area
  • requests to other government agencies to defer establishment of tenures such as leases, licenses, or other rights to occupy the site
  • application of Fisheries Act regulations and fisheries closures
  • implementation of Canada Shipping Act regulations such as anchoring, navigation, and pollution restrictions
  • establishment of controls by other government agencies, such as implementation of wildlife protection measures, moratoriums on new tenures or renewals, restrictions on resource uses in or around the area, protection from influences of land-based activities, and prohibitions of waste disposal and dumping

Step 3: AOI Evaluation and Recommendation


To identify and assess the ecological, technical, and socio-economic merits of an AOI, to engage the public in a process of assessing the AOI, and to recommend whether the AOI should be established as an MPA.

Evaluation activities

This step consists of two activities:

  1. Evaluation of the AOI
  2. Recommendation

In order to consider an AOI for MPA status, a more detailed proposal will be required. Preparation of a proposal may involve a planning process that brings together affected agencies and interests. An example of information that may be required is provided in Appendix 1. This information will normally be more detailed than that required for screening.

Interested parties should contact regional DFO offices for further information on procedures for proposals and evaluation.

A. Evaluation of AOIs

To assess the merits of AOI from ecological, technical, and socio-economic perspectives.

The evaluation

AOIs will be evaluated through a series of assessments to determine their suitability as MPA candidates. Using scientific, traditional, and local knowledge and information the evaluation will weigh the merits of an AOI. A discussion paper, A Guide to Developing Marine Protected Areas, presents the kinds of questions that may be considered in the assessments.

Interested parties should have an opportunity to participate in the evaluation process.

The evaluation will be followed by a brief summary of information relevant to the assessment, including a rationale for accepting or rejecting an AOI as an MPA candidate. The format and content of evaluation documents will be developed through pilot MPA reviews.

Assessment activities

The AOI evaluation will consist of the following assessments:

  1. Ecological Assessment
  2. Technical Assessment
  3. Socio-economic Assessment

These assessments may be conducted concurrently or sequentially.

1. Ecological assessment

The ecological assessment addresses the following questions:

  • Does the proposed MPA comply with the reasons for MPAs stated in the Oceans Act?
  • What are the ecological merits of the proposal?
  • How significant are these?

In addition to ecological knowledge, the assessment should include a list of human activities which may need to be controlled, any restoration needs for the area, and the potential for recovery of natural ecosystem functions, if applicable.

Where an ecological assessment indicates that an AOI is not suitable as an MPA under the Oceans Act or other relevant legislation, the AOI will not undergo any further assessments.

2. Technical assessment

The technical assessment addresses the following questions:

  • Is the proposal feasible from a management and technical perspective?
  • What adjustments can be made to improve feasibility and practicality?
  • What should the boundaries of the AOI be?
  • Is there public and stakeholder support?

The technical assessment determines:

  • The prior recognition of the conservation value of the site, such as international recognition of a site's importance
  • The contribution of the site to integrated coastal zone management purposes
  • The availability of the site for designation
  • The appropriateness of proposed area boundaries and management regulations for meeting the proposed management objectives
  • The capacity of management resources for planning and management
  • The public and stakeholder support for the proposal
  • The nature of cooperative partnering or co-management arrangements that might support management of an MPA
  • Possible conflicts with adjacent uses, and measures to lessen these
  • The demonstration value of the site for conservation purposes

The technical assessment also refines the proposal to improve its acceptability, to minimize technical problems, and to ensure the design for the proposed MPA is appropriate. It will also develop partnering, co-management, or co-designation with other agencies to meet site objectives.

Finally, the evaluation considers whether other measures or regulations might be more appropriate for conserving and protecting resources (e.g., fisheries closures or harvest regulations).

3. Socio-economic assessment

A socio-economic assessment answers the following questions:

  • How would the establishment of an MPA affect human activities in and around the proposed MPA?
  • How can socio-economic benefits of the MPA be enhanced or the costs reduced?

The socio-economic assessment determines how the establishment of an MPA may affect:

  • fishing uses
  • community uses (local recreation, anchoring, food gathering)
  • Aboriginal interests (claims, commercial uses, food fishery, cultural or traditional activities)
  • economic and transportation uses (oil and gas, minerals, sand and gravel, aquaculture, resort uses, shipping, docks, defence and maritime security interests, aircraft facilities)
  • cultural, recreation, and tourism values and uses (seascapes or landscapes, wildlife viewing, shipwrecks, educational opportunities, recreational seashores or water areas)

A socio-economic assessment may be conducted concurrently with the technical assessment.


The precautionary approach states that errors should be made on the side of caution in making decisions about sensitive marine resources and habitats. This suggests that an AOI's ecological values may be more important than technical and socio-economic considerations. In such areas, the overriding concern may be to provide special protection for these values.

B. Recommendations

After completing the assessments, DFO will review the information and make a recommendation that a site either be designated as an MPA candidate (which requires the development of a management plan) or that it be considered for other forms of protection.

Public involvement

Interested parties will be given a reasonable opportunity to participate in the assessment of an AOI. They will be notified of recommendations concerning the AOI and encouraged to comment on them.

Recommendation options

Based on the evaluation process and public input, recommendations may be made to:

  • drop the AOI from further consideration
  • consider tools other than MPA status for protecting or conserving the area's sensitive resources and habitats
  • refer the AOI to another agency expressing an interest in considering the site under their legislation
  • defer further consideration of the AOI until more information is available
  • move forward with the development of an MPA management plan
Interim Protection

Where an AOI is recommended as an MPA candidate site, interim protection may be put into effect, as discussed earlier, to protect and conserve the site's resources and habitats until an MPA is established.

Step 4: Development of a Management Plan for a Candidate MPA Site

Purpose of MPA Management Plans

The management plan for an MPA will state the reasons for the MPA, its goals and objectives, how the goals and objectives are to be reached, and how the success of the MPA will be measured. A management plan will be prepared for each MPA, based on proposals and assessment reports, and on comments of stakeholders, the public, and government agencies. The planning process will address the issues and concerns of interested parties within the context of the stated purpose and objectives for theMPA.

Development of an MPA Management Plan

The formal process of developing a management plan for a candidate MPA begins after the AOI evaluation has been completed. The timing for the process will depend on capacities and schedules of participants. Effective planning will depend on realistic schedules, focusing on a few sites at a time, and the cooperation of interested groups and individuals.

Management planning will proceed by working with other federal agencies, provincial agencies, local governments, Aboriginal communities and organizations, non-government stakeholders, and the public.

Some of the purposes and objectives for the MPA will have been defined before formal management planning begins. Suggestions for management may come from ecosystem overviews and AOI proposals; information gathered in the ecological, technical, and socio-economic assessments; and from public input.

Plan content

The management plan will provide details on how the MPA will be managed. It will provide a number of parameters for management such as the location and boundaries of the MPA, zoning, prohibited activities, and other relevant regulations. The MPA management plan may also provide additional policies, strategies, or other management tools for achieving the purposes stated for the MPA.

Establishing an MPA may require implementing a variety of initiatives to manage the area, including resource studies (inventories, research and monitoring), public awareness and education, surveillance, enforcement and resource use management. These should be included in the MPA management plan.

Appendix 2 provides a checklist of some of the elements that an MPA management plan might address. These elements may vary depending on the purpose of the MPA, its location, partnering arrangements, and other factors.

Partnering arrangement

Where the MPA is to be co-managed with another organization, the MPA management plan will state these proposed arrangements and detail the commitments, responsibilities and roles of the organizations.


The plan should identify the sources of funding and a projected management budget to support program activities.

Background information and resource analyses

The MPA management plan should contain a summary of resource information relevant to the plan objectives. The AOI proposal and assessment reports will contain much of the necessary information. Additional information may be obtained for detailed area planning.


The Oceans Act allows for zones defining levels of protection to be established within MPAs. The MPA management plan will include all zoning provisions that:

  • specify which activities will be permitted or prohibited within each zone
  • establish boundaries for specific activities and permitted uses
  • prescribe rules of use and restrictions on various activities

The number and type of zoning categories will vary to meet the purposes for which an MPA is established. Zones may include strict 'no take' or 'no activity' areas, where access is severely limited; areas where controlled use, limited resource harvesting, or other human activities are allowed under specified conditions; and temporal zoning categories designed to vary provisions depending on seasons or other time periods, such as spawning.

Buffer zones

Buffer zones are areas defined around the MPA to protect it from unnecessary encroachment of human activities that may damage important species or habitats of the MPA's ecosystem. Uses within buffer zones are managed in a manner that conserves and protects the marine resources and habitats within the MPA.

Prohibited classes of activities

The Oceans Act enables the government to establish regulations prohibiting classes of activities within an MPA. This power permits the blanket exclusion of activities that would conflict with the purposes of the MPA.

Protection standards

It is anticipated that each MPA management plan will be unique. The types of activities that are allowed, or not allowed, within an MPA are specific to each MPA. No underlying protection standards are specified.

Existing activities within the MPA

Where existing and proposed activities within or near an MPA may conflict with the conservation objectives of the MPA, the plan may provide for a phasing out of these activities. In many cases, however, users may have rights or tenures permitting them to use resources of the area. For example, an aquaculturalist or resort operator may have a provincial lease to operate a business within the proposed MPA. In such cases, agreements will be sought with the operator and responsible authority for protection of the area's resources.

Resource agencies, including DFO, other federal departments and agencies, and provincial governments have many powers for regulating the use of resources. MPA management plans can provide latitude for applying tools according to local conditions, in cooperation with resource users.

Development of Regulations for Designation

The management process may provide important information for determining what should be included in the regulations designating an MPA. The designation regulations confirm provisions that will be contained in the final MPA management plan, including objectives, boundaries, zoning, and other regulatory requirements.

MPA management plans may contain operational details, such as awareness programs, that will not be included in designation regulations.

MPA management plans may be updated from time to time. This may not necessarily require introducing new regulations, or amending existing ones.

Results of MPA management planning

Once the MPA management plan has been developed, the Minister can recommend that the MPA be designated through regulation under the Oceans Act.

Step 5: Designation of MPA


The Oceans Act allows for the designation of MPAs through regulations created under Section 35 (see Table 2). The designation step may proceed concurrently with the MPA management planning step.


Implementation of designation regulations and MPA management plans may require completion of partnering or co-management agreements, signing of Memoranda of Understanding between DFO and partnering governments and organizations, allocation of financial and staff resources, and other commitments.


The Oceans Act also provides for enforcement and fines for violations of regulations concerning MPAs.

Table 2. Designation Regulations: Section 35 (3):

"The Governor in Council, on recommendation of the Minister, may make regulations

  1. designating marine protected areas; and
  2. prescribing measures that may include but not be limited to
    1. the zoning of marine protected areas;
    2. the prohibition of classes of activities within marine protected areas, and
    3. any other matter consistent with the purpose of the designation."

Step 6: Management of MPA

Area management

MPAs will be managed using existing information, on-going research, and traditional ecological information from a variety of stakeholders. Activities necessary for accomplishing the objectives of the MPA may include site planning, research, monitoring, surveillance, enforcement, visitor management, and stewardship initiatives.

Role of MPA management plan

MPAs will be managed on a site-by-site basis. This means that each MPA will have its own management plan, reflecting the special character of the site and the purposes for which it was established. MPAs will be managed in close cooperation with other agencies and interested parties.

Guidance for management will be provided by the regulations designating the MPA, the MPA management plan, and other conservation policies and regulations.

Research and monitoring

Many environmental processes within marine ecosystems are poorly understood. Scientific research and monitoring may be conducted within MPAs, where appropriate, to understand marine ecosystems better and to provide valuable data on environmental changes.

Public awareness

Compliance with MPA regulations and management plans depends on the awareness and cooperation of the public. Interpretation and education programs may be necessary to explain the purposes of MPAs, and to provide information on appropriate activities within an area.

Review and evaluation

Each MPA will be evaluated periodically, with input from the public, to determine whether it is fulfilling its purposes. If not, changes may be recommended to MPA regulations or management plans.

Review and evaluation can include reconsideration of the status of the MPAMPAs are not necessarily established in perpetuity. Many factors can change, including changes in purposes, environmental conditions, climate, and biodiversity. Periodic reviews will determine whether an existing MPA might be discontinued, enlarged, relocated, or redesigned to serve the intended purposes.

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