June 27, 2005

New federal strategy defines approach to planning marine protected area network

The federal government's new Marine Protected Areas (MPA) strategy, introduced earlier this month by Environment Minister St├ęphane Dion and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Geoff Regan, sets out an innovative approach to planning a network of marine protected areas in Canada. By collaborating on the identification, selection, establishment and management of marine protected areas, the government's intention is to create marine protected areas which are managed more effectively and efficiently. The strategy follows from the national Oceans Strategy and Oceans Action Plan which were made public at the end of May.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Environment Canada (EC), and Parks Canada Agency (PCA) each have a mandate to establish and manage marine protected areas. The MPA strategy articulates how these agencies will work together to:

* plan and establish marine protected areas, in the context of integrated management planning;

* enhance collaboration for management and monitoring activities;

* increase awareness, understanding and participation of Canadians in the network;

* link to continental and global networks.

The strategy will involve:

* natural and social science research,

* continuing management and enforcement of specific marine protected areas, and

* consultations with Canadians and stakeholders, including provinces, territories, First Nations and mandated Aboriginal organizations.

The agencies involved will be able to apply their understanding of the marine environment to better situate marine protected areas of various types to achieve Canada's conservation objectives. The building of an ecologically-linked network of marine protected areas network will contribute to the conservation and protection of species at risk and will help support the implementation of Canada's Species at Risk Act. Marine protected areas as conservation tools can be applied to the mandatory protection of critical habitats described in species recovery strategies and action plans.

More information on the MPA strategy is available on the DFO Web site, www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

Canada's federal marine protected areas network includes three core programs:

* DFO's Marine Protected Areas are established under the Oceans Act to protect and conserve important fish and marine mammal habitats, endangered marine species, unique features and areas of high biological productivity or biodiversity.

* EC's Marine Wildlife Areas are established to protect and conserve habitat for a variety of wildlife including migratory birds and endangered species.

* PCA's National Marine Conservation Areas are established to protect and conserve representative examples of Canada's natural and cultural marine heritage and provide opportunities for public education and enjoyment.

In addition, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (EC), National Wildlife Areas (EC) and National Parks (PCA) with a marine component are also considered important contributions to the MPA network.

In related activities, final public consultations have been launched for four new MPAs in Atlantic Canada. This will bring the national total to six.

The four regions being considered as marine protected areas include Basin Head, in Prince Edward Island; Musquash Estuary, in New Brunswick; Gilbert Bay, in Newfoundland and Labrador; and Eastport, also in Newfoundland and Labrador. Final MPA designation is expected this fall.

The Basin Head location is being considered primarily for the conservation and protection of a unique strain of Irish moss and its habitat. This particular type of moss has a unique life cycle and is found only in the Basin Head lagoon.

The Musquash Estuary is one of the last ecologically intact estuaries in the Bay of Fundy. It is in a rare, undisturbed condition and is an outstanding example of a fully functioning estuary and salt marsh complex.

Gilbert Bay is of particular interest because of a genetically distinct species of northern cod. Reddish-brown to golden in colour, this fish species is found only in Gilbert Bay and lives there year round.

The Eastport MPA seeks to conserve two prime lobster spawning and rearing grounds. As part of an overall conservation strategy for the area, Eastport Peninsula lobster harvesters asked DFO to close Round Island and Duck Island to all commercial and recreational fishing. Scientific evidence suggests that this action has sustained, and possibly enhanced, the adjacent lobster fishery.

A 30-day comment period on regulations designating these regions as marine protected areas was initiated following publication of a notice in the June 18, 2005 edition of the Canada Gazette Part I.

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