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Marine Protected Areas Policy - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - March 1999

Marine Protected Areas Policy - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - March 1999

Marine Protected Areas Policy - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - March 1999 (PDF, 424 KB)

Table of Contents

Canada's Commitment to Marine Protection

Canada's history has been defined by its surrounding marine environment. The Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are important to our culture, our economy, and our national identity. Of equal significance are internal waters having large marine components such as the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Hudson Bay and James Bay.

The richness and biodiversity of Canada's oceans provide enormous potential for both present and future generations. Our continental shelf is one of the largest in the world. The marine ecosystems found there have a remarkable diversity of species, including commercial and non-commercial fish, marine mammals, invertebrates and plants. Canada's oceans provide numerous opportunities for commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries; tourism; transportation; mineral production; education; and biological and technical research.

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In recent years, growth in Canada's ocean sector has resulted in increased pressures on the ocean environment. The biodiversity and ecological integrity of many marine ecosystems are being threatened. There is a need to proactively conserve and protect marine ecosystem functions, species, and habitats for future generations.

Achieving sustainability in the harvest of living ocean resources ultimately depends on healthy, productive ecosystems. A new approach to oceans management is needed, one that takes an ecosystem approach rather than a sectoral one. In recognition of this, the Government of Canada works with other countries to address concerns about the marine environment. Internationally, Canada has demonstrated its commitment by endorsing conventions that pursue the goals of conservation and protection, including the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the Global Program of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities.

It is equally important that the Government of Canada work with Canadians to manage activities in or affecting the marine environment. This vision of oceans management is embodied in the Oceans Act, which came into force in January 1997. The Act confirms Canada's role with respect to oceans management, specifying the need to integrate marine conservation with development activities to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Working together with interested Canadians, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will lead and facilitate the development and implementation of a national strategy for the management of estuarine, coastal, and marine ecosystems. The Oceans Strategy will be based on the principles of sustainable development, integrated management and the precautionary approach.

In addition to the Oceans Strategy, the Oceans Act identifies three complementary initiatives for the conservation and protection of the oceans. These legislated initiatives are:

Definition under the Oceans Act

Canada's Oceans Act (Section 35 (1)) states:

A marine protected area is an area of sea that forms part of the internal waters of Canada, the territorial sea of Canada or the exclusive economic zone of Canada and has been designated under this section for special protection for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. the conservation and protection of commercial and non-commercial fishery resources, including marine mammals, and their habitats;
  2. the conservation and protection of endangered or threatened marine species, and their habitats;
  3. the conservation and protection of unique habitats;
  4. the conservation and protection of marine areas of high biodiversity or biological productivity; and
  5. the conservation and protection of any other marine resource or habitat as is necessary to fulfill the mandate of the Minister (of Fisheries and Oceans Canada).

Program Overview

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Canada's marine ecosystems are vast and diverse, supporting many different activities. Marine Protected Areas under the Oceans Act must, therefore, satisfy a range of needs in a variety of jurisdictional settings. As a result, the Program uses a flexible approach to the design and management of these areas. The National Framework for Establishing and Managing Marine Protected Areas provides the general approach to MPAs across Canada. Specific program details concerning the conservation, protection and use of the marine environment and its resources will be developed and implemented at the DFO regional level.

Management plans for individual MPAs will be developed with involvement of local resource users, and interested and affected parties. They will set forth details on such issues as partnering responsibilities, funding arrangements, jurisdictional coordination, zoning, protection standards, regulations, permissible activities, enforcement, monitoring and research, and public awareness. MPAs will differ from one another; some may be strict no-take zones while others may be sustainably managed zones. This type of flexible approach is needed in order to meet the range of conservation and protection requirements of MPAs.

To ensure that MPAs are part of a comprehensive initiative to protect the health and function of marine ecosystems, they should be developed and established within the context of integrated management planning. Such planning considers the protection of each area in light of both environmental and socio-economic effects.


To conserve and protect the ecological integrity of marine ecosystems, species, and habitats through a system of Marine Protected Areas, as per the Oceans Act.


Code of Practice

In implementing the Marine Protected Areas program, Fisheries and Oceans will:


Developing a National System of Protected Areas for the Marine Environment

Canada's Oceans Act (Section 35 (2)) states:

For the purposes of integrated management plans ... the Minister (of Fisheries and Oceans) will lead and coordinate the development and implementation of a national system of marine protected areas on behalf of the Government of Canada.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada and Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) all have mandated responsibilities to create protected areas in the marine environment. Since the Oceans Act names the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans as the lead federal authority responsible for oceans, DFO will lead in the development of a national system of marine protected areas* incorporating the programs of all three departments. Since management of marine ecosystems is a shared responsibility, it is essential to work together to conserve and protect these areas.

The different federal protected area programs share a common objective: to further conservation and protection of living marine resources and their habitats. By coordinating the policies, programs and prospective sites amongst the different federal agencies, the integrity and health of Canada's estuarine, coastal and marine waters will be better maintained. The booklet Working Together For Marine Protected Areas: A National Approach describes the federal programs in greater detail.

Federal Departments and Programs

Fisheries and Oceans

Parks Canada

Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service):


Within this document, the name 'Marine Protected Area, MPA' refers specifically to the DFO program under the Oceans Act. The name 'marine protected area' is a generic term referring to protected areas in the marine environment created by any agency.

Published by:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Marine Ecosystems Conservation Branch
Oceans Directorate
Ottawa, ON K1A 0E6
DFO / 5870
Minister of Public Works and Government Service Canada 1999
Car. No. Fs23-365 / 1999 
ISBN 0-662-64210-4
Date modified: