Thank you very much.
I'd like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to provide comments on the criteria as set out in the Oceans Act.
I'll now turn to some comments and recommendations on subsection 35(1) of the act.
Paragraph 35(1)(a) makes reference to “commercial and non-commercial” fisheries. We would like to note that Nunavut is currently in a food security crisis. For example, the Inuit health survey reported that nearly 70% of Inuit households in Nunavut are “food insecure”, which is over eight times the national average and among the highest documented food insecurity rates for an indigenous population in a developed country.
Due to large-scale and dramatic changes to the marine environment in the Arctic Ocean, including marine ice, the need to protect subsistence fisheries using available tools, including marine protected areas, is becoming particularly pressing, if not an issue of survival for many Inuit. While current mandate letters helpfully identify the importance of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, mandate letters may change.
The NPC suggests a more permanent commitment to reconciliation. Our second recommendation is to add a distinct reference to indigenous or Inuit subsistence fisheries in the Oceans Act, at paragraph 35(1)(a), as distinct from commercial and non-commercial fisheries. Our third recommendation, as outlined in the brief, is to ensure that Inuit subsistence harvesting is not affected by marine protected areas.
In respect of paragraphs 35(1)(b) and 35(1)(c), it is reasonable for MPAs to provide conservation of endangered or threatened marine species and their habitats as well as unique habitats. Arctic marine mammals rely on both terrestrial and marine habitats. In the Arctic, some unique areas are transitory, but these remain important to protect.
Our fourth recommendation is that the Oceans Act should expressly recognize that many marine mammals in the Arctic rely on the foreshore and marine ice as habitat, meaning that to adequately protect unique areas and endangered or threatened marine species using marine protected areas, there must be complementary protections of the terrestrial and marine ice habitats of those species.
Our fifth recommendation is that marine protected areas established under the Oceans Act should expressly recognize that in the Arctic Ocean, water is often frozen and provides a unique, albeit transitory, habitat. The second sentence of our fifth recommendation should be read as saying that if an MPA is proposed to protect unique marine ice habitat, it should allow human uses at other times.
In respect of paragraph 35(1)(e), the 2015 mandate letter of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard reads in part as follows:
It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.
Paragraph (35)(1)(e), which references the mandate of the minister, should not be relied upon alone. Mandate letters are not always released, meaning that MPA processes may be commenced for reasons that are unknown to others. Our sixth recommendation is that the Oceans Act should enshrine reconciliation with Canada's indigenous peoples rather than rely on mandate letters, which may change before an MPA can be established.
I'll now turn to a few comments on the process of establishing marine protected areas.
We note that Canada's strategic plan for biodiversity for 2011 to 2020 outlines a five-point plan.
The first point is to finish what was started. We suggest prioritizing the completion of marine protected areas in the Arctic Ocean to meet the conservation targets that have been set.
The second point is to protect pristine areas. At the current rate of increases in use, many pristine areas in the Arctic will be altered by human activities unless conservation and protection measures are identified and put in place in a timely way.
The third point is to protect areas under pressure. We'd like to note that many areas of Nunavut's marine environment are currently under pressure from climate change.
The fourth point is to advance other effective area-based conservation measures. We note that DFO has issued operational guidance for establishing these other effective area-based conservation measures.
We would like to note that a land use plan prepared by the Nunavut Planning Commission under the Nunavut Planning and Project Assessment Act is a long-term adaptive management approach to resource use and development throughout Nunavut, including in the marine environment. Subject to any revisions that may occur to the current draft plan at the end of the public hearing process, the NPC suggests that any restrictions on use of the marine environment that are in the final plan could be considered an “other effective area-based conservation measure” and counted towards Canada's Aichi biodiversity targets.
This leads to our seventh recommendation, which is that once the Nunavut land use plan is approved, if it meets DFO's criteria for other effective area-based conservation measures, it should be counted towards Canada's Aichi biodiversity targets.
Finally, the fifth point is to establish MPAs faster. We note that a lengthy process of establishing protection measures means that sensitive areas may be largely unprotected while studies and discussions are ongoing, and the precautionary principle may not be implemented in a timely way. Our eighth recommendation is that the Oceans Act should provide for the establishment of non-permanent interim protection measures to allow temporary restrictions for the purposes of studying the effects of imposing marine protected areas.
Finally, I'll note that because the Nunavut Planning Commission's broad planning policies, objectives, and goals are applicable to initiatives and conservation areas, including marine protected areas, and because the NPC will perform a conformity determination of any DFO proposal for an MPA in Nunavut, it is important that the NPC continue to be consulted through a collaborative and ongoing process.
In conclusion, we'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to comment on the criteria and process for establishing marine protected areas under the Oceans Act. We look forward to any questions you may have.