An advisory committee tasked with looking into the potential designation of the Fundian Channel-Browns Bank Area of Interest (AOI) as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the Oceans Act has begun meeting.
The Fundian Channel-Browns Bank was identified as an AOI for an MPA in 2018 because of its diverse offshore ecosystems and ecological features, including diverse seafloor habitats and the presence of several depleted species and extensive deep-sea coral and sponge colonies.
The first Advisory Committee meeting was held on June 23.
“The membership of the Advisory Committee is still being finalized; however, it will include representation from a diverse group of users, including First Nations and Indigenous communities, other government partners, industry and environmental organizations, with substantial representation from the fishing industry,” said Alex McNab, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) communications. “Once the membership is finalized, it will be posted on the website, along with summary reports from Committee meetings and other important documents (https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/aoi-si/fundian-fundy-browns-eng.html).
McNab said it is expected the Advisory Committee will meet every three or four months over the next one to two years.
“The potential MPA boundaries, conservation objectives and allowable/prohibited activities are informed by science and consultations with partners, stakeholders and local communities. The Advisory Committee serves as the key multi-sector table that provides advice to DFO on the establishment of this potential MPA,” said McNab.
“Information gathered through research, combined with results of consultation, will inform the development of goals, objectives and proposed management measures (boundaries and zones) for a potential MPA in this area.”
Over the past few years, DFO has been working to assemble available information on economic activities in the Fundian Channel-Browns Bank AOI, including available fishery landings data, and Natural Resources Canada has been working to assess potential oil and gas resources in this part of the region, said DFO communications in an update.
“The Department has also completed a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) process evaluating available scientific information on the ecology of the area to help identify conservation priorities for the site. A resulting Science Advisory Report was created. DFO has also been working to develop an ecological risk assessment to assess the degree of risk posed by different human activities to these conservation priorities. All of this information will serve as a basis for engagement and consultation with the Advisory Committee moving forward. These multi-sector discussions will lead the way in providing advice or raising concerns with regards to this potential MPA.”
Launching an AOI represents the first step of the MPA establishment process under the Oceans Act. The MPA designation process is advanced on a case-by-case basis that respects the uniqueness of each area and situation, said McNab.
“Based on similar experiences, the work of an Advisory Committee takes one to two years followed by the regulatory phase. Based on these timelines, a recommendation regarding designation of the Fundian Channel-Browns Banks AOI would occur approximately in 2025.”
In addition to the Advisory Committee, DFO will explore opportunities to inform a variety of interests on the MPA establishment progress and process. This includes established fishery advisory committees that have activities that may be affected by a MPA establishment.
All Canadians will have an opportunity to provide their input into the potential MPA design during the public comment period that follows publication of the draft regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part I. “These comments are taken into account when finalizing the regulations that would establish and govern the MPA,” said McNab.
The Government of Canada has committed to conserving 25 per cent of its oceans by 2025, working towards 30 per cent by 2030. Under Budget 2021, the Government of Canada made an investment of $976.8 million in funding over five years towards reaching the goal of conserving 25 per cent of the oceans by 2025.
Located South of Yarmouth in the Scotian Shelf bioregion, the approximately 7,200 km2 AOI includes two geographically separate components. The western section is centred on Georges Basin while the larger eastern section encompasses the Fundian Channel (also known as the Northeast Channel) and part of Browns Bank. A portion of the area is currently protected as a marine refuge, called the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation Area.