Thank you, and thank you for inviting me to speak here today.
The Ecology Action Centre is Atlantic Canada's oldest and largest community-based environmental organization. We work toward sustainable environment and sustainable livelihoods.
I am pleased to be able to speak to you, on behalf of our over 5,000 members, on this important issue to Canadians. I would also like to congratulate you on your report on restoring lost protections and modernizing Canada's fisheries act as well as the reports on northern cod and Atlantic salmon. Clearly, you're all up for hard work in now undertaking this next study on marine protected areas, and this subject is not independent of your last three reports. The recommendations of those reports provide important context for marine protection.
I would strongly encourage you to consider the recommendations of the March 2017 report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, entitled “Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas for Canada’s Future”. The completion of that report enhances what you are doing today and over the next few months. Before I provide my substantive comments, I would like to let all of you know that the world is watching Canada as it works toward catching up to other countries on protecting its marine environment, and achieving this protection in a meaningful way.
To give you some perspective, the island nation of Palau has set aside 80% of its EEZ as a marine reserve. The United States, to our south, has protected 32% of its waters with 3% fully no-take areas. These examples help to keep our 2020 target of 10% in perspective. Countries will be reporting on their efforts at the first United Nations oceans conference in June, and I look forward to Canada being one of those countries.
I will focus now on a few key points that come directly from my experience in Atlantic Canada as a member of the advisory committee for the Sable Island Gully MPA; the St. Anns Bank area of interest, soon to MPA; experience both inside and outside of Canadian waters with respect to efforts to protect coral, sponge, and sea pen concentrations from bottom trawling activity; an active member of several fishery advisory committees; as well as a stakeholder in Marine Stewardship Council certifications.
The first key point is that it's high time we give back to our oceans. With less than 1% of Canada's coastal and marine environments currently protected, it's clear we focused on using, extracting, and harvesting from our oceans, rather than anywhere near an equal measure of protection. Canada is one of the few countries in the world with three oceans. Perhaps because we have so much ocean, we've come to think that it does not need more from us. Given the depleted status of many of our fish stocks—this year, as you all know, is the 25th anniversary of the northern cod collapse—we are still struggling with recovery to a point that allows commercial viability. We have increasing competition for our ocean space, and growing and unpredictable impacts of climate change. It's time to give back to the ocean.
The Royal Society report on Canada's marine diversity in 2012; a report on fisheries recovery in Canada, which I co-authored last year with Dr. Julia Baum at the University of Victoria; and the most recent Auditor General's report on sustaining Canada's fisheries, all conclude that we are not doing enough to protect our commercial fish stocks and marine biodiversity in general. I have no illusions that changing how we take care of our oceans will be easy, but I do know that maintaining the status quo is not an option. As noted in the ENVI report:
The single most important factor that witnesses identified as being necessary to develop and implement a plan to reach our protected area goals is political will and commitment.
We have the legislative ability to do it, and we have the technical ability to do it. We need to actually commit to it.
Second, the pace is challenging, but we must stay the course. I hear on a regular basis from various ocean stakeholders that the pace of protection, 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020, is challenging, difficult, impossible. However, we had an early warning on our progress in the 2012 report issued by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, which stated that:
...Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada have not planned, established, and managed a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in accordance with their legislative mandates and policies and good practices in order to conserve and protect Canada’s marine biodiversity and fulfill Canada’s international targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As a consequence, Canada’s marine biodiversity remains at risk. By extension, the prosperity of many coastal communities in Canada with marine-based economies also remains threatened.
I have a significant amount of empathy for ocean stakeholders, particularly from small fishing associations, who you'll hear from later today, and first nations communities who may not have the capacity to meaningful engage when it's most needed.
However, I want to make the point that we are only experiencing this pace because very little effort was put into the commitments Canada made in 2010. We are starting at year six instead of at year one. In fact, we really only started this in the past year, hence, losing an opportunity to do this well and maintain good relationships. Proposals for MPAs have sat on the fisheries minister's desk for over 18 months with no consideration. This is not respectful to those of us who have spent significant time, some of it voluntary, around the table on advisory committees. I'm working with others to come to an agreement on protection measures.
Government responsiveness to commitments could have made this process much less onerous. We cannot slow down. Our oceans will not wait much longer for well-deserved protection. This is also the first time I've ever heard that DFO is moving too quickly, so I see here an opportunity to set a new expectation for other DFO-led processes.
Third, the selection of protected areas must be based on science. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for Canada to use science as the basis for protected area selection and to set conservation-based objectives in areas legally designated. This practice must be consistent across all of our oceans, which means changing our culture of marine management where short-term socio-economic considerations are generally the primary consideration.
By focusing on using the best available science, we are creating a level playing field for all ocean users. We are also setting a consistent and predictable process. This is something we have long struggled to do in fisheries management. We need to get this right because failing is not an option. Closed areas, in the right place and with the right objectives, can help protect endangered species and vulnerable habitat, and they are an important tool for restoring depleted populations.
My one caveat to this point is that there is a much greater requirement and burden of proof for science in marine areas. It's interesting to note how different it is in terrestrial areas. We are able to protect terrestrial areas with much less science. We can't let the absence of all the information that we might want slow the progress of protection.
Fourth, we must have minimum standards. My colleague Bill Wareham mentioned this, as well.
An area is not protected if it allows industrial activity. This means bottom fishing activity, oil and gas development, ocean mining, etc. Canadians are clear about what they expect, as indicated by national polling completed by WWF in 2016. I believe you all have a copy of that polling, but if not, WWF will be presenting on it.
Currently, we have proposed MPAs that allow some of these activities to happen. These areas should not be considered to count towards our targets until industrial activity has been restricted, with a minimum of 75% no-take areas. Amending Canada's Oceans Act is an opportunity to establish these minimum standards by providing more consistency and predictability to MPA designation.
Fifth, indigenous protected areas need to be part of how we move forward in protecting our oceans. We have a national imperative to begin the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. One way of doing this is to encourage and facilitate the establishment of indigenous protected areas. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us to rebuild indigenous peoples' trust in federal departments and in settlers, to recognize decolonization as part of reconciliation, and this includes our coasts and oceans. Indigenous peoples should be empowered to declare indigenous conserved and protected areas.
The Ecology Action Centre recently co-hosted a workshop with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs on this subject. Once we receive permission from our Mi'kmaq and Maliseet partners, we will share the recommendations of that gathering with you.
Sixth, communities need to be supported in putting forward coastal protected areas, and provinces need to be on board, as well. I can say, from my experience in Nova Scotia, that there are coastal communities that know where the best areas to protect are, and in some cases, have already begun the process through informal agreements among users, mostly fisheries.
Community leadership and ownership, particularly in coastal protected areas, will be important in engaging Canadians and making government employees' jobs easier. It's also a key aspect of long-term monitoring and enforcement. As part of this, provinces also need to be supportive.
I've been very disappointed to hear representatives of the Nova Scotia provincial government state publicly that they do not want any more burden of protection. For a province that has protected 12% of its terrestrial environment and that relies so heavily on the ocean for food, economy, and culture, I find this attitude extremely unfortunate.
Seventh, as we move forward, it will be necessary to ensure adequate funding for ocean planning and protection. We won't be able to protect our oceans without good science, management, and enforcement. We must fund marine planning processes and ensure stakeholder engagement so that protecting our marine environment becomes part of who we are and how we see ourselves as global leaders.
Currently, on the east coast, there's a significant amount of focus on what happens in a protected area—we're zoning in our protected areas instead of committing to ocean planning—rather than viewing those as a larger piece of how we manage our oceans. Ocean marine protection and planning, particularly in its early stages, need to be adequately funded.