SGaan Kinghlas–Bowie Seamount Gin siigee tl’a damaan kinggangs gin k’aalaagangs Marine Protected Area Management Plan 2019

SGaan Kinghlas–Bowie Seamount Gin siigee tl’a damaan kinggangs gin k’aalaagangs Marine Protected Area Management Plan 2019

SGaan Kinghlas–Bowie Seamount Gin siigee tl’a damaan kinggangs gin k’aalaagangs Marine Protected Area Management Plan 2019 (PDF, 7.40 MB)

Table of Contents

List of Boxes

List of Figures

List of Tables

4 Conservation Significance and Human Use

The SK-B MPA is a biologically rich area that is home to high densities of marine species in the North Pacific, all supported by a relatively rare and very productive habitat. The shallow seamounts in the MPA are underwater mountains formed by volcanic activity which have fostered unique oceanographic interactions that enhance the biological productivity of the area. Eddies enrich and trap nutrients around the seamount to support a highly biodiverse ecosystem that acts as a refugium and nursery for flora and fauna, and provides an important feeding area for resident and migratory fish species, transient marine mammals, and seabirds.

Marine research on seamounts around the world has demonstrated that not only are seamounts rich with sea life compared to the open ocean, they are also fragile ecosystems that are susceptible to damage from human activities. Many of the species on seamounts grow and reproduce slowly and are therefore vulnerable to overexploitation. Little is known about deep and largely inaccessible seamount habitats, and the SK-B MPA presents opportunities to learn more about these unique ecosystems.

Seamounts such as those in the SK-B MPA are also subject to global threats that affect the ocean, such as climate change, and trends in ocean acidification and ocean warming. Many other productive seamounts can be found in the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of any State or Nation, creating governance and management issues in terms of effective protection of open ocean habitats. The SK-B Management Board will work with relevant agencies, as appropriate, when formulating recommendations to address new and emerging threats to seamount ecosystems, including fishing and deep sea mining.

4.1 Geological, Oceanographic and Ecological Characteristics

Figure 2. Haida Eddies in the vicinity of the SK-B MPA.

Figure 2. Haida Eddies in the vicinity of the SK-B MPA.

Seamount ecosystems are fragile underwater mountains, formed by volcanic activity, that rise from the ocean floor but do not reach the surface. The SK-B Seamount has two distinct terraces at depths of 65–100 m and 220–250 m, and rises to within 24 metres of the surface. In geological terms it is relatively young, having formed less than one million years ago. Due to the presence of wave-cut terraces below the surface and relatively young volcanic deposits at its peak, it is thought to have been an active volcanic island about 18,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

Limited information is available about water dynamics at or near the Bowie, Hodgkins and Davidson seamounts. However, Cobb Seamount, a shallow seamount located 500 km southwest of Vancouver Island, was the focus of a major oceanographic research program between 1989 and 1994. Assuming similar water flow phenomena occur at the SK-B seamount, there is probably an area of cold, nutrient-rich water in the upper euphotic zone with a high level of mixing. Biologically, these conditions would increase phytoplankton growth, thereby contributing to the highly productive communities that often exist on shallow seamounts.

In addition to localized eddies, the SK-B MPA is affected by regional eddies, known as “Haida Eddies.” While the ecological linkages between Haida Eddies and seamount ecosystems are not well understood, it is believed that Haida Eddies carry coastal waters rich in larval fish, plankton and nutrients, such as nitrate and iron, from coastal waters out to the SK-B MPA, where they settle and mature (Figure 2).

The various oceanographic phenomena in the area support a unique, rich biological community that, despite its shallowness, includes a combination of open ocean species (e.g. salps), deep water species (e.g. Prowfish and squat lobsters), and intertidal and shallow subtidal coastal species (e.g. taaXuu [California mussels] and k’aay [split leaf Laminarian kelp]).

Investigations of the seamount’s ecology have noted that due to water clarity, light can penetrate to depths of 40 m or more. The largest and most conspicuous algae, ngaalaagaas (flattened acid kelp), have been found at depths of 38 m. For most species of algae, their presence on the SK-B seamount represents new depth records, as benthic marine algae are rarely found at depths greater than 20 m in coastal waters.

In 2015 a gin gii hlk’uuwaansdlagangs (glass sponge) was discovered in the SK-B MPA, documented as the first member of the genus Doconesthes reported outside the North Atlantic Ocean and the first ever found in the Pacific Ocean. The following year, two skwaank’aa (sponge) samples were identified as new species previously unknown to science (Rhabdocalyptus trichotis and Pinulasma bowiensis). These discoveries suggest that the MPA may support other species that are currently unknown in the North Pacific and highlights the importance of ongoing research and monitoring in the area.

4.2 Cultural Characteristics and Values

According to oral traditions, at the beginning of time, Haidas “gin siigee tl’a kaatl’aagangs” (came out of the ocean) at many locations around Haida Gwaii in the presence of supernatural beings. SGaan Kinghlas, one of those supernatural beings, reflects the Haida belief in these ocean origins. Some also believe that the seamount is the two-headed stone frontal pole referred to in a Haida story about “Chaan sGaanuwee” (The One in the Sea) published by the anthropologist and linguist John Swanton in 1905.

In another oral tradition, Haida elders tell the story of two young siblings who set out to find a fog-shrouded puffin colony to restore their family’s wealth and prestige. After a lengthy journey, they discover a hidden island far off the northwest coast of Haida Gwaii, believed to be SGaan Kinghlas at a time of lower sea levels. The island is covered in kwa.anaa kun (puffin beaks), and the brother and sister return to their village with a canoe full of beaks. By distributing the beaks at a potlatch, the family ultimately regains their status in the community. These oral traditions indicate that the pinnacle of SGaan Kinghlas may contain archeological evidence of human occupation.

Haida fishermen continue to visit and fish the area and have historically fished the seamount for traditional use and commercial purposes. For current status, including bottom contact fishing restrictions, see Section 4.3.1.

4.3 Socio-Economic Uses

In addition to Haida knowledge and use, over the past hundred years the SK-B Seamount and surrounding areas have also supported a myriad of human activities including whaling, fishing and research (Box 3).

Currently, the primary human activities in the SK-B MPA are scientific research and monitoring, and vessel traffic. Other activities also occur infrequently (e.g. marine tourism, recreational fishing).

Box 3. A Recent History of Socio-Economic Activities in the SK-B MPA

Records of whaling activity occurring in the vicinity of the seamount date from 1911 through 1943, and catches during this period include sgaguud (fin whales) and a kun (blue whale). Since then, commercial xaguu (halibut), skil (Sablefish), and k’ats (rockfish) fisheries have taken place at various times. Anecdotal information also indicates sporadic Albacore Tuna harvesting has occurred opportunistically when warm water moves north.

Prior to 1972, the federal government issued 227 permits and licences for oil and gas exploration in the offshore, including the SK-B Seamount. Rights under those permits were suspended as of 1972 by way of Orders-in-Council. The offshore is currently under both provincial and federal moratoria prohibiting exploration and development of offshore oil and gas. Many Indigenous peoples, including the Haida Nation, have also passed resolutions opposing offshore oil and gas development.

In 1995 the National Geographic Society undertook an expedition to the SK-B Seamount to conduct a combination dive and remotely operated vehicle survey, documented in the November 1996 issue of National Geographic magazine. Since then, multidisciplinary research has occurred in the SK-B area, increasing scientific knowledge of biological and physical oceanography at the seamount.

4.3.1 Fishing Activities

Consistent with the SK-B MPA Regulations, commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fishing activities, including Haida traditional fishing, are allowed under specific conditions. At the time of MPA designation, the Northern Seamount Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) trap fishery was the only commercial fishery that DFO permitted within the MPA.

The Northern Seamount Sablefish trap fishery was managed by DFO as a limited entry fishery in which participants were determined in a lottery process. Beginning in 2014, the fishery was conducted between May 1 and August 31, allowing four vessels to fish every year (one per month). The fishery also had trip limits. The fishery was restricted at SK-B Seamount to depths greater than 250 fathoms (456 m) and prohibited at Hodgkins and Davidson seamounts. Management measures were described annually in the groundfish Integrated Fishery Management Plan.

Recent scientific analyses suggest an exchange of Sablefish between seamounts and other parts of their range, although relative rates of exchange are unknown at this time. Other concerns and areas of uncertainty about the Sablefish fishery initially identified by the CHN and jointly investigated by the Management Board included impacts of the Sablefish fishery on species/population dynamics, habitat impacts (including corals and sponges), bycatch (removal and discards of non-target species), and limited baseline ecological information against which to measure change.

As a result of these concerns, interim management measures for the Sablefish fishery within the SK-B MPA were introduced from 2014 to 2017. The interim measures included fewer fishing trips, at-sea observer coverage, additional data collection requirements, and implementation of a coral/sponge encounter protocol. An Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Strategy process, including a Management Strategy Evaluation for the SK-B MPA Sablefish fishery, was also initiated at this time to investigate impacts of this fishery on sensitive benthic habitat, Sablefish abundance and rockfish. Data collected over the interim period confirmed that the Sablefish traps came into contact with cold-water coral and sponges within the MPA.

In January 2018, the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada agreed to increase the level of protection for sensitive benthic habitat within the MPA. To achieve this, all bottom-contact fishing within the MPA, including the Northern Seamount Sablefish trap fishery, was closed. These restrictions are a precautionary management measure and are intended to continue with the implementation of this Plan by utilizing the management tools available to the parties.

As a result of these restrictions, fishing activities for species requiring the use of bottom-contact gear is no longer allowed in the MPA. This decision has resulted in the MPA being closed to all commercial fishing activities. The decision also applies to bottom-contact recreational and Aboriginal fisheries.

Consistent with the MOU and the cooperative governance relationship described in Section 2, the reinstatement or opening of fishing activities within the MPA would be informed by a recommendation by the SK-B Management Board.

4.3.2 Scientific Research and Monitoring

In order to conduct scientific research or monitoring activities in the SK-B MPA, researchers must submit an activity plan. The Management Board will review activity plans for consistency with the goals and objectives outlined in this Plan and make a recommendation to the CHN and DFO. The Management Board supports research activities that have minimal ecological impacts and that contribute to the increased understanding of the MPA.

Other requirements and processes may also apply for marine scientific research carried out or sponsored by a foreign government. Those researchers must contact the Defence and Security Relations Division of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to obtain prior approval. The SK-B Management Board also expects all researchers in the MPA to submit an Activity Plan for review.

Since 2010, research activities have included multi-year hydroacoustic data collection by DFO Science. The collection of hydroacoustic data has enabled analysis of the impacts of underwater noise on fish and increased understanding of marine mammal activity in the MPA. In addition, the Management Board encouraged an independent analysis of satellite Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking information; this, paired with acoustic data, informed understanding of vessel traffic patterns and trends in the MPA. Ongoing acoustic monitoring is recognized as a potential tool to increase understanding of seamount ecology and human-use activities in the area.

From 2014 to 2017, Wild Canadian Sablefish Ltd. conducted research in response to Management Board concerns about fishery impacts. This research used underwater cameras and other data-recording equipment deployed on fishing traps to quantify bottom contact. It also included biological sampling and tagging of Sablefish and the k’aalts’adaa (Blackspotted/Rougheye) rockfish species complex.

Complementary to this work, a 2015 DFO survey gathered video documentation of the structure and distribution of biodiversity (including the distribution of corals). The researchers also noted any observable impacts of fishing and recorded seabirds and marine mammals within the MPA. Additional hydroacoustic data and plankton samples were also collected.

From July 5 to 21, 2018, the Haida Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Oceana Canada, and Ocean Networks Canada partnered on an expedition to explore offshore seamounts, including SK-B. The expedition team captured high-quality video footage with two remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), collected species samples, and mapped the seafloor at SK-B using a multi-beam echo sounder. The data collected during this expedition will provide insight into the diverse ecosystems of seamounts, for which data is limited, and help inform the planning and management of SK-B.

Potential management issues associated with research activities include equipment installation, loss and abandonment; impacts of collecting samples; and the potential introduction of aquatic invasive species from submersible operations, research equipment, and discharge from vessels.

4.3.3 Vessel Traffic

Vessel traffic in and around the MPA primarily transits in a northwest–southeast orientation, reflecting routes between Alaska and the southern continental United States, and trans-Pacific shipping traffic. As of 2015, vessel activity was found to be dispersed throughout the MPA and surrounding area at generally low intensity levels; however, there are three distinctive higher-intensity areas: the northeastern boundary (predominantly cargo vessels), 90 km south of the MPA (mainly tanker traffic), and in and around the SK-B seamount pinnacle (fishing vessel activities — closed in January 2018). Ongoing hydroacoustic monitoring and additional collaborative research initiatives are expected to further inform baseline noise levels in the area.

Potential impacts related to vessel traffic include both noise and discharge. Anthropogenic ocean noise is considered a chronic stressor for marine organisms and can have harmful effects on a variety of marine organisms. Discharge from vessels includes aquatic invasive species, debris, oil/contaminants, nutrients and any other foreign materials/chemicals that can be expelled from a vessel via ballast water, hull fouling, sewage or waste disposal, bilge, lost cargo or other means. The risk associated with noise and discharge is related to the frequency of vessel traffic in the MPA and broader region (Box 4).

Every vessel is responsible for managing its ballast water properly to prevent harmful aquatic organisms or pathogens from being released into the SK-B MPA and surrounding waters. Vessels engaged in transoceanic navigation are required to discharge ballast water at least 200 nautical miles (nm) from shore or, if doing so is infeasible or would compromise the stability or safety of the vessel or the safety of persons on board, at least 50 nm from the SK-B Seamount pinnacle (53°18′ north latitude and 135°40′ west longitude)Footnote 1. The basis for the 50-nm distance will be reviewed as part of the implementation of the Management Plan.

The SK-B Seamount can represent a grounding hazard for vessels, given its shallow pinnacle. As a result, tankers and cargo ships typically avoid the area. Transiting vessels are encouraged to avoid the entire MPA to minimize ecological impacts.

Box 4. Regional Vessel Traffic Context

In 1985, a voluntary Tanker Exclusion Zone (TEZ) was established 100 nm offshore from the west coast of Haida Gwaii to help avoid potential oil spills in the area. The pinnacle of the SK-B Seamount is 10 to 20 nm west of the TEZ and is, therefore, susceptible to oil tanker traffic. In addition, existing and proposed industrial development on the North Pacific Coast is resulting in increasing numbers of vessels in the SK-B MPA and surrounding area. Vessel traffic includes tankers (e.g. crude oil, fuel oil, heavy diesel oil) and non-tankers (bulk carriers, general cargo ships, container ships, barges and passenger ships). With approximately 3,000 vessel trips transiting the SK-B MPA area in 2014 (Canessa et al. 2016), there is potential for an oil spill to occur. Oil spills are considered to have a high cumulative risk to marine species and habitats in the SK-B MPA (DFO 2015). There is also a high level of uncertainty, as impacts vary based on the size of spill, type of oil, proximity to the MPA, and ocean conditions after the spill (DFO 2015).

The potential for increased vessel traffic in the area has implications for management of the SK B MPA, such as potentially increased ocean noise and risk of pollution discharge. Opportunities for improved management may arise from implementation of the Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), announced by the federal government in November 2016. The OPP includes commitments to improving marine safety, responsible shipping, and protecting ocean ecosystems. OPP activities that may benefit the MPA include two new heavy duty towing vessels and the installation of large-capacity towing kits on Canadian Coast Guard vessels. The OPP also includes an agreement—signed in June 2018—for collaborative governance and management between Canada and Indigenous peoples, including the Haida Nation, for the Northern Shelf Bioregion.

4.3.4 Other Activities

Other marine activities may occur within the MPA. Specifically, educational and commercial marine tourism activities may occur if the activity is consistent with the Plan’s goals and objectives, increases public awareness of the area, and is approved by way of an activity plan.

Activities of ships, submarines or aircraft carried out for the purposes of public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, national security and exercise of sovereignty also may occur within the MPA. The Department of National Defence and/or the Canadian Coast Guard are the lead federal agencies for carrying out these activities.

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