Almost 44,000 square kilometres of the North Atlantic along the Eastern Scotian Shelf has been established as a deep-water conservation area located offshore Nova Scotia.
The Eastern Canyons marine refuge is located approximately 70 kilometres east of Sable Island and extends to the 200-mile limit, the edge of Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It is adjacent to the Gully Marine Protected Area.
“Through engagement with the Province of Nova Scotia, Indigenous organizations and local First Nations communities, the fishing industry and environmental non-government organizations, the government is creating a marine refuge that will minimize impacts on fisheries while achieving conservation goals for the area,” said Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) when making the announcement on World Oceans Day, June 8.
“All commercial bottom-contact fisheries will now be prohibited from operating in the Marine Refuge, with the exception of a specific management zone for longline gear, which represents 0.2 per cent of the surface area of the refuge and will require full at-sea observer coverage in order to operate within it.”
The Eastern Canyons Conservation Area was identified in 2018 as a proposed marine refuge through the marine conservation network planning process for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy bioregion. The planning process is being led by DFO to identify areas for potential future conservation in waters of the Scotian Shelf, Bay of Fundy and Canadian portion of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
Beginning in 2020, DFO engaged the Province of Nova Scotia, Indigenous organizations and local First Nations communities, fishing industry stakeholders and environmental non-government organizations on the design of the Eastern Canyons marine refuge.
“This collaborative process was guided by available science and knowledge of communal commercial and commercial bottom contact fisheries operating within the area, with the aim of minimizing impacts of site establishment on active fisheries while upholding the conservation goals for the area,” says DFO.
The deep-water portion of the site is referred to as a frontier area, which is defined as an area without a history of fishing, under the DFO Sensitive Benthic Areas policy. This frontier area includes waters deeper than 2,000 metres and is representative of an under-studied and largely undiscovered deep-water ecosystem in Eastern Canada, which is an important element of the bioregional marine conservation network.
Ongoing management of the Eastern Canyons marine refuge will include surveillance of marine activities, scientific surveys and monitoring, development of a site management plan, as well as working with all regulators to address future threats to conservation features.
The Eastern Canyons marine refuge was identified based on scientific evidence and marine industry knowledge confirming the presence of dense concentrations and suitable habitat of cold-water corals in the canyons, along the shelf edge and into deeper waters off the Eastern Scotian Shelf. Cold-water corals are long-lived species forming important habitats that support a diversity of marine life. They are vulnerable to impacts from a variety of marine activities, including bottom contact fisheries, such as trawls, traps and longlines. Additional protection of cold-water corals helps support productive and healthy fisheries resources, including valuable fishery species, such as Atlantic halibut and redfish.
The Eastern Canyons marine refuge contributes approximately 0.76 per cent to Canada’s marine conservation targets to conserve 25 per cent of the country’s oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. With the establishment of the marine refuge, Canada has now protected approximately 842,821 km2 of marine and coastal areas — a total of 14.66 per cent.