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The Scotian shelf: an atlas of human activities

Heather Breeze
Tracy Horsman

Tracy Horsman
Heather Breeze
Stanley K. Johnston

Layout and Design
Francis Kelly

Heather Breeze
Scott Coffen-Smout
Derek Fenton
Tim Hall
Glen Herbert
Tracy Horsman
Paul Macnab
David Millar
Peter Strain
Philip Yeats

All rights reserved. No part of this information (publication or product) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without prior written permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0S5 or at

Cat. No.
0-662-69170-9 (PDF)
0-662-40952-3 (HTML)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Published by:
Oceans and Coastal Management Division
Oceans and Habitat Branch
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Maritimes Region
P.O. Box 1006
Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2
fax: (902) 426-3855


© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2005

Table of Contents

Reference Maps

Geographic Extent of Information

Geographic Extent of Information

Geographic Extent of Information

Legend: Geographic Extent of Information

Legend: Geographic Extent of Information

The Atlas of Human Activities contains information on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) administrative region known as the Maritimes Region. This area includes the Scotian Shelf and adjacent slope to the full extent of Canada’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, as well as the Bay of Fundy and Canadian portions of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. Within DFO, the area is also known as the Scotia-Fundy Fisheries Management Region.

This map is intended to be a reference for the rest of the document. It shows the boundaries for most of the information collected for the atlas: the regional boundary, composed of the international and exclusive economic zone boundaries and the division between the Maritimes region of DFO and the Newfoundland and Gulf regions. The latter is also the eastern boundary of the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management (ESSIM) initiative. In a few cases, we have included information from outside this area, reflecting the management boundaries used by other government departments and agencies that are active in the area. Those administrative boundaries are shown where relevant.

The inset map shows the location of the Scotian Shelf in relation to North America and the North Atlantic Ocean. The image is a composite of multiple satellite images taken in 1996 by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather satellites and enhanced with digital elevation data.

Topography and Geographic Names


The shape of the ocean floor influences the physical and biological marine environment, from the speed and direction of currents flowing over the ocean bottom to the distribution of marine plants and animals. This in turn influences the human activities that occur in the area. The present seafloor topography of the Scotian Shelf, Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy is the result of many thousands of years of geological processes.

Compared to many other submerged continental shelf areas, the Scotian Shelf is relatively wide and extends from 125 to 230 kilometres offshore. At the shelf edge, at about 200 metres in depth, the ocean floor becomes steeper. The area from the edge of the shelf to 2000 metres in depth is known as the “slope” or Scotian Slope. From about 2000 to 5000 metres in depth, the change in depth becomes more gradual. This area is known as the “rise.” Several large submarine canyons indent the outer shelf, slope, and rise, and some smaller valleys also cross the slope and rise.

Topography and Geographic Names

Topography and Geographic Names

Legend: Topography and Geographic Names

Legend: Topography and Geographic Names

Although the shelf itself is relatively flat compared with the slope, there are still many obvious features. There are broad, relatively shallow and flat bank areas, and deeper areas known as basins. Two large channels - the Northeast Channel and Laurentian Channel - divide the Scotian Shelf from Georges Bank and the Newfoundland Shelf respectively. Several deep basins, such as Jordan Basin, are the notable topographic features of the Gulf of Maine.

Geographic Names

The geographic names for undersea features originate from many different sources, including the physical characteristics of the area, names used by First Nations or from First Nation languages, names of nearby features on land, and the religious beliefs of early European explorers. For example, Sable Island Bank is named for its prominent feature, the long, sandy Sable Island. The island in turn gets its name from the French word for sand, “sable.” Georges Bank was named after St. George and references to “St. Georges Bank” continued into the twentieth century (see e.g., Rich 1929). Since the late 1960s, the Advisory Committee on Names for Undersea and Maritime Features has made recommendations to the Geographical Names Board of Canada on authoritative names for undersea features within Canada’s jurisdiction (CPCGN 1988, NRCAN 2005). The standardized names are shown on the map opposite; however, different names may be in use in some areas or among certain marine users.

CPCGN (Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names). 1988. Canada: Geographical Names and the United Nations, 1987. Published for the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names by the Canada Centre for Energy, Mines and Resources.

NRCAN (Natural Resources Canada). 2005. About the Geographical Names Board of Canada (GNBC). (7 April 2005).

Rich, W.H. 1929. Fishing Grounds of the Gulf of Maine. United States Bureau of Fisheries. Appendix III to the Report of the US Commissioner of Fisheries for 1929.

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