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MPA Consultations Nearing an End

By the end of the year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) plans to have a Marine Conservation Network Plan for the Scotian Shelf-Bay of Fundy Bioregion finalized.

“When the plan is finalized, nothing changes on the water. It’s still just a plan,” said ocean biologist Marty King in a presentation to Argyle Municipal Council on April 9.

King works at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography with the marine planning and conservation group. His main duty is to lead a process to develop a long-term spatial plan for marine conservation for the Scotia Fundy bioregion which includes the entire Scotian Shelf, the Bay of Fundy and the Canadian portion of Georges Bank.

“Over two decades of work has gone into this,” said King, adding a lot of time has been spent engaging with the fishing industry.

DFO initiated a two-month public engagement period on April 29 as part of the process and were doing in-person meetings upon request.

“This is a long-term process. This is one point in the process. We will be talking about this for quite a while after we reach the point of having a final plan,” said King.

Once the consultation period closes on June 29, revisions will be made in the fall, with an aim to finalize the plan by the end of 2024, said King.

The plan will “be used to guide the selection of future marine protected areas (MPAs). That’s what we’re working towards and then any new sites we select, we select based on the plan. Having a plan provides certainty so users know what the long-term plan is,” said King.

“When we do proceed with actually trying to designate an area, there is a whole additional more in-depth engagement and consultation period to create an Ocean’s Act MPA that takes five to seven years.”

Creating MPAs “is not about trying to shut down industry,” said King. “It’s about striking the right balance. If we can meet these targets, these commitments in ways that have minimal impact on the fishing sector and other sectors. if we’re systematic in how we do our planning, get all the best information…the only type of fisheries that can’t occur in these protected areas would be the mobile bottom gear fishery, so scallop, groundfish.”

King said throughout the whole region, fishing associations from Cape Breton to Yarmouth are saying a fisheries like lobster shouldn’t be restricted within these areas and DFO concurs.

“We realized because fisheries like lobster and other kind of traditional coastal fisheries are so crucial to the culture and the economy of coastal communities that a fishery like lobster shouldn’t be restricted within these areas,” he said.

Canada, along with 190 other countries, have made a commitment to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030 through the United Nations International Convention on Biological Diversity.

As it stands now, Canada’s three oceans are 14.66 per cent protected.

“It’s not just any 30 per cent. We want to protect examples of all the major habitats you would find in each of Canada’s three oceans. We want that variety across the three oceans and within the three oceans,” said King.

“An MPA can come in various shapes and sizes and various levels of protection.”

Canada’s national network of MPAs will be composed of 13 networks created in spatially-defined bioregions. In addition to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canada Wildlife Service and Parks Canada are also lead agencies that have the ability and the mandate to create protected areas on the ocean, said King.

It’s been 20 years since Atlantic Canada’s first MPA, the Gully, was created. The Gully is the largest underwater canyon in the western North Atlantic and is home to hundreds of species from tiny plankton to Northern bottlenose whales, as well as approximately 30 species of cold-water corals.

The Gully is located approximately 200 kilometres off Nova Scotia to the east of Sable Island on the edge of the Scotian Shelf. Over 65 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide, the Gully ecosystem encompasses shallow sandy banks, a deep-water canyon environment, and portions of the continental slope and abyssal plain, providing habitat for a wide diversity of species. The Gully’s size, shape and location have an effect on currents and local circulation patterns, concentrating nutrients and small organisms within the canyon.