Pathways of Effects - National Guidelines
Illustrating the links between human activity and its potential impact on aquatic ecosystems

Table of Contents


The Government of Canada, through the Oceans Act (1997), is committed to the integrated management of human activities in or affecting Canada’s marine ecosystems. Integrated management is implemented through an ecosystem approach—or Ecosystem-based Management (EBM).

EBM considers the marine ecosystem health in the management of human activities that affect marine and coastal areas, and includes land-based activities. The approach ensures that significant ecosystem components and goods and services, such as fish habitat and water quality, are not significantly impacted by human activities and are maintained at appropriate temporal and spatial scales over time. The concept has been incorporated into numerous international agreements, and many other countries are also in the process of implementing EBM approaches (Curtin and Prellezo, 2010). EBM overcomes the limitations of the traditional sector-by-sector or species-by-species approach to resource management by providing a framework for the identification and assessment of the cumulative impacts that multiple human activities may have on an ecosystem.

EBM requires comprehensive information about aquatic ecosystems and their potential pressures and impacts. Within DFO, knowledge compiled to date relates to ecosystems and the social, cultural and economic use of marine areas. Several reports and guides to support EBM implementation have been developed through expert workshops Footnote 1 :

  • “Delineation of Marine Ecoregions Workshop.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Proceedings Series 2004/016.
  • “Guidelines on Evaluating Ecosystem Overviews and Assessments reports (EOARs): Necessary Documentation.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat SAR 2005/026. (PDF)
  • “Identification of Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Ecosystem Status Report 2004/006. (PDF)
  • “Identification of Ecologically Significant Species and Community Properties.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat SAR 2006-041. (PDF)
  • “Guidance on Identifying Conservation Priorities and Phrasing Conservation Objectives for Large Ocean Management Areas.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat Report SAR 2007/010. (PDF)
  • Social, Economical and Cultural Overview and Assessment (SECOA) reports.

These reports/guides provide a firm foundation for understanding ecosystems in general, as well as significant ecological components and areas within Canada’s marine environment. In some circumstances, this work has led to the identification of conceptual conservation objectives (and eventually clear operational objectives) for ecosystems—the first steps toward the implementation of IM/EBM. It has also increased understanding of potential sector-based and cumulative impacts of human activities on coastal and marine ecosystems, and is the basis for assessing ecosystems’ health.

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