Canada advances plan to create huge marine protected area in British Columbia

The proposed Northern Shelf Bioregion.

The Canadian federal government and the provincial government of British Columbia have formally endorsed the creation of a new marine protected area.

The announcement was made 5 February by Canada Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray, Mamalilikulla First Nation Chief John Powell (Winidi), and B.C. Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen.

The Northern Shelf Bioregion is located off the coast of northern British Columbia, stretching from the Campbell River to the border with the U.S. state of Alaka.

The endorsement of the marine protected area and network action plan for the site stretching across the northern third region of Canada’s west coast took nearly a decade to construct, and provides a blueprint for the creation of additional marine protected areas, Murray said.

“[It provides a] design for the network, recommendations for potential design tools, conservation objectives and implementation timelines for the future sites,” Fisheries and Oceans Canada stated in a press release. 

The partnership is collaborative between Indigenous governments, the province of British Columbia, and the government of Canada, working with community stakeholders and scientists.

"The endorsement of the Marine Protected Area Network Action Plan for the Northern Shelf Bioregion demonstrates what we can accomplish together to conserve biodiversity when we rely on science, conservation and Indigenous and local knowledge," Murray said.

The Canadian government is working with the First Nations to preserve the lands and waters they have been on for more than 14,000 years, Canada Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said.

"This action plan lays the foundation for meaningful protection of the valuable marine environment off the Northern Coast of British Columbia," Guilbeault said. "It is closely related to the new CAD 800 million [USD 595 million, EUR 554 million] Indigenous-led conservation initiative we announced at COP15, which will follow a project finance for permanence model. And this is one more big step forward toward reaching our goal of protecting 30 percent of Canada's lands and waters by 2030, an undertaking that will only be possible if we achieve the kind of collaboration we had with this plan."

The BC Seafood Alliance, a trade group representing thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses in the province’s seafood sector, issued a statement opposing the creation of the MPA.

"Today's announcement by the government of Canada flies in the face of commercial fishery advice provided by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fish harvesters that would have met or exceeded government conservation objectives while reducing the impacts to commercial fisheries and food security," BCSA Executive Director Christina Burridge said.

The group favors the retention of current fishing opportunities in the area to Indigenous groups, saying allowing continued fishing in the area would result in the continued production of an estimated 100 million meals, as well as an estimated annual investment of CAD 125 million (USD 93.2 million, EUR 86.8 million) in fishing and related infrastructure and businesses.

"British Columbia's commercial fishing industry has already proven that we can work with government and Indigenous partners to meet common objectives. In the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area on Haida Gwaii, we worked with the Council of the Haida Nation, Parks Canada, and other industry partners to set a model for marine zoning that works for all stakeholders. Unfortunately, the NAP does not use this model," Burridge said. "To mitigate unintended consequences, we continue to ask the government of Canada to fairly address those impacted through the creation of a transition plan that equitably reallocates access from the current commercial fishing participants to Indigenous communities, a goal that all stakeholders share."

Photo courtesy of DFO


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