To start off, I have a bit of information about World Wildlife Fund-Canada. We are Canada's largest international conservation organization. We have the active support of more than 150,000 Canadians, and we do work in unique and ecologically important areas so that nature, wildlife, and people thrive.
In the Arctic, WWF-Canada works to ensure the marine environment is healthy, allowing for sustainable use by local communities and providing a sustainable ecosystem for Arctic wildlife, including iconic species such as polar bears, Arctic whales, walruses, and seals.
Our conservation success in the Arctic relates to our collaboration with government, industry, academia, and Inuit communities, with an emphasis on understanding, respecting, and supporting Inuit cultural and ecological priorities.
WWF's long-time presence in the north, particularly in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories—we have offices in both Iqaluit and Inuvik—enables us to work closely with communities. We understand that without the support of the local communities, sustainable Arctic conservation is not possible. We also understand that conservation efforts will be undermined if they are surrounded by endemic poverty, so we work to ensure conservation efforts support community development in the north.
Today, on World Oceans Day, WWF-Canada is pleased to offer our perspective for this study being conducted by this committee. We bring a context from the 2016 “Living Planet Report”, a WWF report that tells us that our wildlife and their habitats are under increasing pressure from climate change and other human activities.
In the marine environment, many stocks—31%—that contribute to the global fish catch are now fully fished or overfished, with the main threats being over-exploitation and degradation of marine habitats. From maintaining sources of food to helping protect shorelines and biodiversity, MPAs can achieve so much.
In 2016 we contributed to the environment committee study on protected areas. Much of that testimony is echoed here today. We recommend that the ENVI committee's findings, particularly recommendations 20 to 32, be applied to this Oceans Act study. What makes this study so meaningful is its timing, with the opportunity to influence the legislative review of the Oceans Act. The current process to create MPAs is long and arduous and needs to be streamlined to reflect existing realities.
Protecting and conserving the marine environment and biodiversity is critical particularly in the north, due to the role of Arctic waters in moderating the global climate, protecting marine diversity, and providing food security, income, and cultural identity for indigenous peoples and communities. In addition to Canada's commitment to protect 5% of the marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020, WWF-Canada is pleased that Canada pledged to create a pan-Arctic marine protection area network in 2016 under the Canada-U.S. joint statement on climate, energy and Arctic leadership, including at least 10% of Arctic waters, and committing to “substantially surpass these national goals in the coming years”.
The Arctic offers great potential for marine conservation. Working at the community level, I can tell you what I have heard, which is that Inuit ask for more conservation and more control over development to ensure they maintain opportunities for sustainable harvesting. This is very important for Canada to hear. It's an incredible opportunity. For instance, the communities around Lancaster Sound have been voicing this message for over 30 years, as they wait for the creation of a national marine conservation area that will protect the area from oil and gas exploration and exploitation.
For the Oceans Act to achieve the intended benefits of MPAs and to ensure all traditional uses and values are duly considered and respected, we offer three key recommendations: create a marine conservation economy focusing on community benefits; recognize indigenous protected areas; and implement minimum standards for MPAs.
WWF-Canada commends DFO's efforts to solicit community voices for protection as communities in the north know best what should be protected. Inuit are holders of traditional and local knowledge that must inform the identification of these sites. We hear first-hand that northern communities want protection, and their expectations go way beyond what the government so far has put on the table. In the Arctic, almost all communities are coastal and depend on the bounty of the ocean for their well-being. They have a strong desire—and I cannot emphasize this enough—to ensure that their food sources are protected now and well into the future.
For conservation to succeed long term in a region where poverty is endemic, it must also provide community benefits. The four Inuit land claims agreements across the north of Canada were settled over a span of 30 years. They vary considerably with regard to the Inuit rights recognized in the marine environment, including the requirement to negotiate impact and benefit agreements for the creation of MPAs. This presents a challenge to the timely creation of MPAs in the north but also an opportunity to secure community, economic, and financial benefits.
While land claims have very differing requirements for impact and benefit agreements, a moral case can certainly be made that impact and benefit agreements should be negotiated to the highest standard across all four regions. We recommend that the Government of Canada create an equitable and transparent financing formula as well as high minimum standards for community management through IBAs across all four Inuit land claim regions. These should be negotiated well in advance and with representative Inuit organizations.
Long-term benefits should be secured to ensure progressive investment in community infrastructure, enabling communities to manage and develop from marine conservation, such as opportunities for long-term local management through community-based monitoring and enforcement.
In considering the Oceans Act amendment to modernize how we protect our oceans, the Government of Canada should consider including a new approach to marine protection—indigenous protected areas. WWF applauds the work of the ministerial special representative for the Arctic, Mary Simon, in her holistic road map for a new shared leadership model that provides a strong way forward for conservation in the north with its emphasis on establishing indigenous protected areas.
We agree with her recommendation to apply this conservation designation to the Pikialasorsuaq. The Pikialasorsuaq is a polynya, an area where water remains open through the winter. It's the most productive polynya in the Arctic, and it is shared between Greenland and Canada. “Pikialasorsuaq” is actually a Greenlandic word that means “physical or mental upwelling” and it's used to describe this incredibly rich polynya.
Placing more emphasis on IPAs as a protection mechanism would allow indigenous peoples to create and manage their own protected areas and contribute to marine conservation targets. When a clear expression of desire to protect a marine area is demonstrated by an Inuit community, a rapid process to deploy that protection should ensue, driven by the community itself and assisted by the Government of Canada. Inuit conservation management allowing for continued harvesting and community uses would be paramount. Monitoring, research, and enforcement would provide Inuit employment.
This committee has already heard that just under 1% of Canada's marine territory is protected today. In terms of quality, not all sites offer the same level of protection that benefit habitat species and coastal communities. Only about 0.1% qualifies as highly protected, meaning that no fishing or other extractive industries such as mining or oil and gas development are allowed. Many of our protected areas are small and they are not actively managed. WWF-Canada recently conducted a survey that tells us almost nine in 10 Canadians consider that 1% is way too low and that eight in 10 Canadians support minimum standards for MPAs, opposing commercial activities such as oil and gas, and industrial fishing within the boundaries of MPAs.
While we do want to reach marine protection targets, we need to ensure that this protection is meaningful. The goal should be not only to get to 10% but to choose the right 10% through proper siting. MPA networks provide a foundation of sustainability by systematically selecting sites that operate synergistically at various spatial scales and with ranges of protections to reach ecological goals more effectively than individual sites can alone.
We should not lose sight of the need for networks in the race to get to 10% by 2020. WWF-Canada supports the development of an MPA network in the western Arctic bioregion, but also urges Canada to initiate the development of an MPA network in the eastern Arctic.
Minimum standards set in advance for all MPAs are key to effectiveness. Minimum standards can also help develop co-operative management and co-management frameworks with indigenous communities and within land claim regions. Setting standards before sites are selected can improve certainty for stakeholders, including indigenous communities, and can speed up the consultation process.
In the Lancaster Sound area, communities have been asking for protection for over 30 years. Why should it take 30 years? Our tools need to be adapted to adjust to that and speed up this process.
In particular, northern communities have expressed the desire that no seismic activity or oil and gas development take place within marine protected areas. Canadians certainly don't expect to see oil rigs in areas that are considered conservation areas.
The Laurentian Channel, for example—this is not in the Arctic—is a proposed MPA site that will allow oil and gas exploration development in over 80% of its borders if it were designated today. This oil and gas activity would pose a series of risks that are not compatible with the objectives of an MPA.