Fishing for Good Ideas: The Oceans 20 - Oceans Act Workshop

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From June 13-15, Mike Kofahl, ECELAW’s Articled Clerk, traveled to Ottawa to attend the Oceans 20 – Oceans Act Workshop. The event, which was organized and hosted by West Coast Environmental Law in partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the David Suzuki Foundation and the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), involved participants and speakers from coast to coast to coast in Canada, as well as abroad, in both the public and private sectors. Participants included law groups, environmental groups, fisheries associations, Indigenous communities and organizations, scientists and academics, policy-makers and politicians.

The main purpose of the conference was to discuss ways to improve Canada’s Oceans Act to enable a better, more effective process for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The motivation for the conference was the fact that Canada’s Oceans Act is now 20 years old and needs a comprehensive review of and amendments to some of the most important deficiencies in the Act, especially as they relate to MPAs.

The conference opened with a prayer and water dance of the Algonquin First Nation to highlight the importance of water to all humans and to emphasize that healthy water affects us all. This was followed by an address from Minister Dominic Leblanc from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). He talked about his mandate letter from the Prime Minister requiring the DFO to protect 10% of oceans by 2020, with an interim goal of 5% by 2017 (through MPAs and other various mechanisms).

The first day of discussions and presentations focused on operational and scientific experiences with Oceans ActMPAs and on the difficulties of managing MPAs on a daily basis. The conference heard about the need for marine spatial planning through integrated management to ensure the best MPAs design and management. We also heard key Indigenous concerns about the need for greater marine conservation, respect for Aboriginal rights and treaties, and the effects of tourism and marine recreation. The speaker highlighted the need to respect the rights and autonomy of individual Indigenous nations and the need for early Indigenous participation in the MPA regulatory stage to avoid later conflicts. There was a suggestion for Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) as a way to better allow Indigenous Peoples to participate in oceans management.

Another key topic was the need for more science-based MPAs, including science-based protection standards, highlighting that the primary objective of MPAs should be conservation, where they must reflect fundamental ecological processes in addition to the human dimensions. The discussion focused on the need to shift our understanding of MPAs in order to prioritize conservation rather than fisheries management. The need to bridge the gap between fisheries management and oceans management, and the need for better cooperation with Indigenous groups in the creation and management of MPAs were also important topics covered.

Another important point that was raised was the need for quality MPAs, rather than the creation of a number of MPAs that provide few protections. The quality of the MPAs needs to be connected to sound scientific research and information.

The conference heard speakers from a number of different backgrounds in a discussion on the co-management of MPAs. Ideas included the possibility of incorporating Indigenous-Crown co-management mechanisms from New Zealand into the Canadian context and a discussion of the success of co-management committees in Nunavut, as well as the need for more localized oceans management by communities, especially Indigenous communities in the north, who are most directly impacted by oceans management and MPAs.

There were also presentations by the Shipping Federation of Canada and the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, who provided perspectives from industries that regularly come up against MPAs. They stressed the need for better cooperation between all stakeholders and connected that to broader discussions at the conference about working towards stronger collaborative conservation and better marine spatial planning. This tied well into the concluding presentation by lawyer Tom Appleby and a client about their experiences successfully establishing an MPA on the Island of Arran in Scotland. Mr. Appleby made the point that “[…it] is only the management measures which make the MPA”.

The conference concluded on the last day with a panel that discussed legal requirements for the creation and enforcement of MPAs along with the need for greater interdepartmental cooperation. Some minimum legal standards that were suggested included requirements to designate significant no-take and buffer zones, prohibitions on all large-scale habitat disturbances by industrial activities, connectivity between MPAs, the need for a refined process that allows for adaptions to MPAs, and the need for better enforcement mechanisms.

As a representative of ECELAW and one of the few representatives from the East Coast, our Articled Clerk’s presence at the workshop was a big step in terms of building a national profile and networking with a number of environmentally-conscious law and non-law groups, Indigenous groups, and government agencies. Additionally, ECELAW now has more knowledge and information and is better placed to respond to environmental concerns about Atlantic Canada’s coasts and oceans. We see an important role for ECELAW in the near future to represent the interests of Atlantic Canadians during the review of the Oceans Act as the House of Commons Standing Committee Study on MPAs prepares to travel to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick this fall. 

 Mike Kofahl HeadshotMike Kofahl 

ECELAW Articled Clerk