January 12, 2004

Final draft regs published for protection of offshore marine gully

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) published a final draft of regulations under the Oceans Act for the proposed Gully Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the December 6, 2003 Canada Gazette, Part I (Vol. 137, No. 49).

The proposed MPA designation is intended to conserve and protect the Gully's abundant biological diversity and to ensure its long-term health, while providing for sustainable use. The 2,364-square-kilometre MPA will define three management zones with varying levels of protection based on the conservation objectives and ecological vulnerability of each zone.

Zone 1, comprising the deepest parts of the canyon, is to be preserved in a near-natural state with full ecosystem protection. Zone 2 imposes strict requirements for protection of the canyon head and sides, feeder canyons and the continental slope. The adjacent sand banks, which are prone to regular natural disturbance, comprise Zone 3.

Regulatory exceptions and Ministerial plan approvals will be used to allow for uses that do not compromise the conservation objectives of the MPA. Fishing for halibut, tuna, shark and swordfish under a federal fishing licence and approved management plan will be allowed in Zones 2 and 3. Scientific research and monitoring may be approved in all three zones provided a plan is submitted and the research meets all regulatory requirements.

Subject to plan submission and Ministerial approval, other activities may be permitted in Zone 3 provided they do not cause disturbance beyond the natural variability of the ecosystem. Search and rescue, international navigation rights and activities related to national security and sovereignty will also be permitted in the MPA.

General prohibitions against disturbance, damage, destruction or removal of any living marine organism or any part of its habitat within the MPA will apply to the entire water column and will include the seabed to a depth of 15 metres. The regulations also prohibit any activities in the vicinity of the MPA that contravene these general prohibitions.

This provision recognizes that human activities outside the MPA, including the depositing, discharging and dumping of substances, have the potential to cause harmful impacts within the MPA. The potential effects of activities occurring outside the MPA will be addressed through existing environmental review processes.

Located off Nova Scotia near Sable Island, the Gully is the largest submarine canyon in eastern North America. The area is acknowledged nationally and internationally as an important and exceptional marine habitat. The Gully ecosystem has long been important for fishing; in recent years, the surrounding waters have witnessed considerable growth in oil and gas exploration and development.

In addition to contributing to to the national system of marine protected areas called for in the Oceans Act and Canada's Oceans Strategy, the new regulations will fulfill international obligations assumed by Canada with the recent ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The regulations may be viewed on the Canada Gazette Web site, http://canadagazette.gc.ca.

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