Good morning. Thank you for inviting us today.
We are pleased to support your interest in the government's efforts to protect our three oceans. As you are aware, on June 8, 2016, as part of the World Oceans Day celebrations, Ministers LeBlanc, McKenna, and Bennett announced the government's five-point plan to meet its target to increase marine and coastal protection to 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020, as mandated by the Prime Minister.
Our plan is the result of a long-term science investment and extensive collaboration with provinces, territories, indigenous groups, coastal communities, fisheries groups, and other marine sector and environmental groups.
I would like to briefly outline the five-point plan, which is further detailed in the background presentation circulated to you. I do not intend to go over the presentation that was circulated. It was sent to you for future reference.
Since the committee has expressed a specific interest in various aspects of how we develop Oceans Act MPAs, I would also like to briefly outline the MPA process, which is also further detailed in the background presentation.
Our first objective is to make progress on and complete the designation of marine protected areas under way. In some cases, the process to protect these areas began more than 15 years ago. We develop our marine conservation objectives at the national level; they are not broken down by region or ocean. Instead, we work in areas in need of protection, when the scientific community alerts us to a need or when stakeholders and communities call for conservation measures.
In November, we designated Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam—which is equally difficult to pronounce in English and French—also known as Darnley Bay, in the Arctic. In February, the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs, in the Pacific region, became our 10th designated MPA.
We are making good progress on the designation of three other proposed MPAs: St. Anns Bank off the eastern Scotian Shelf; the Laurentian Channel in the continental shelf off Newfoundland and Labrador; and the American Bank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The Parks Canada Agency is currently working on establishing the Lancaster Sound national marine conservation area. In December, Environment and Climate Change Canada published, in part I of the Canada Gazette, the government's intent to designate the marine area around the Scott Islands as a marine national wildlife area. These two protected areas will help us achieve our conservation objectives for 2017.
The international marine conservation target allows countries to count the contribution made to marine biodiversity by other effective area-based conservation measures, also called “other measures”. We developed criteria on other measures last year, based on scientific advice and the guidance emerging from the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. These criteria are also found on our website and in the presentation on slide 9.
We needed to advance our approach on other measures so they could contribute to our 2017 target, and we are now international leaders in this area. We are working closely with the IUCN and other international partners on this front, and they have been interested and supportive.
The background presentation includes a map outlining these areas as well as future fishery closures for the 2017 target, which we are currently exploring with provinces, territories, indigenous groups, fisheries groups, and environmental groups.
We are also pursuing the establishment of new, large Oceans Act MPAs in offshore areas that are greater than 100,000 square kilometres. We are determining the exact location and size of these areas in consultation with our partners, indigenous groups, marine industries, and other stakeholders.
We are also exploring how the Oceans Act can be updated to speed up the designation process for MPAs without sacrificing science or the public's opportunity to provide input.
We will also look at how to improve the act's ability to support application of the precautionary principle while incorporating the best available science.
We noted that the March 24 Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development report recommends that the government “explore more effective and innovative mechanisms to expedite protection for marine and coastal areas”. The ENVI report also calls for Oceans Act amendments that enable interim marine protection before areas are formally established, and shortened time frames to develop our network of marine protected areas.
Work is currently under way to prepare a proposed bill for the Oceans Act, and is well aligned with these recommendations. Consultation on the proposed amendments is ongoing.
For our 2020 target, work continues to advance MPA networks in priority bioregions. Through these processes we will establish additional Oceans Act MPAs in areas under pressure from human activities.
Now I will talk a little bit about the MPA development process. This is detailed starting on page 24 of the presentation.
Over the last 20 years, extensive science has identified ecologically and biologically significant areas in our three oceans, also called EBSAs.
Through the MPA network planning processes, which are under way in five key marine bioregions, most candidate areas for Oceans Act MPA establishment, also known as areas of interest, AOIs, are already identified. These AOIs are not selected in a vacuum. Using the ecosystem approach and applying precaution, these AOIs are selected based on information about their ecological and biological significance, much of which was developed through the EBSA process. Once an AOI is selected, ecological and socio-economic data are compiled and analyzed for the effects a conservation action may have, both positive and negative. Indigenous traditional knowledge is important, particularly for areas in which scientific information is limited.
Biophysical and ecological overview reports are compiled and include the ecological importance and key physical, ecological, and biological information for the area. Traditional and local ecological knowledge is also included as appropriate.
Conservation objectives are then developed using risk-based tools to determine what human activities are compatible with these objectives.
Socio-economic overview and assessment reports are also produced and include the variety and intensity of economic activities and current use of resources for the area. These reports may also describe potential future economic activities where the probability and level of confidence is high that the activity will occur. Fisheries and Oceans has produced guidance for completing and integrating socio-economic analysis into marine protected area development. This ensures that the analysis undertaken is rigorous and consistent across the country, and meets professional standards.
A management approach and proposed MPA regulations are then developed. At this stage, every effort is made to understand, analyze and minimize the economic impact on marine user groups while respecting the conservation objectives.
Once the MPA is designated, we work with indigenous and local communities to implement the management plan in an adaptive way, including ecological and compliance monitoring and research. MPAs are created on a permanent basis, and we ensure that all affected and interested groups and parties are engaged and included in a collaborative manner through the entire process.
In conclusion, DFO is conscious that protecting our oceans is a long-term but necessary investment in renewing our marine natural capital, and supports balanced ecosystems. These outcomes help secure long-term productivity and economic opportunities for many maritime sectors, including fisheries. Our work on meeting our marine conservation targets also helps to lay the long-term foundation to advance marine spatial planning to better manage our oceans' resources.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to provide you with this briefing on the government's plan. We are pleased to respond to your questions.