Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Living Oceans uncovers Canada’s MPA misrepresentation

September 24, 2012

Canada is misrepresenting its Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to the international community.

Kim Wright

“The majority of Canada’s Pacific protected areas are reported to offer the highest level of protection, with no commercial fishing allowed, according to the IUCN global database,” says Kim Wright, Living Oceans’ Manager of Marine Planning and Protected Areas. “Yet our inventory of  MPAs in B.C. shows that almost all allow fishing inside their boundaries.”

An updated MPA inventory was recently mapped by Living Oceans’ GIS Analyst Carrie Robb who plotted new data and counted the number of fisheries permitted inside the MPAs. This update shows more MPAs have been created on Canada’s Pacific coast, but that still less than one percent of those areas are closed to all fisheries. Little has changed in terms of real protection since our 2010 study was published in Marine Policy. Meanwhile, our work to uncover the discrepancies has been recognized by the IUCN and has helped shape its new recommendations to nations on how to better manage their MPAs.


The IUCN’s new guidance is very clear about what should and should not be allowed. 'No-take’ zones that prohibit extraction of fish or other living resources are more explicitly laid out for several IUCN categories of MPAs. And rightly so—there is a growing body of evidence that no-take MPAs increase the catch for local fisheries outside of the boundaries of the zones. Most of Canada’s Pacific MPAs should be no-take zones in order to be consistent with the IUCN guidelines.

In designing its MPAs, Canada has said it will honour its commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect 10 percent of its different ocean ecosystems and habitats. To judge Canada’s progress in satisfying this commitment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is doing an inventory of all the protected areas that exist and proposals that are undergoing review and will be added soon.

On a recent trip to Ottawa, however, Kim discovered that DFO may include some areas as part of this 10 percent that don’t even meet the definition of any MPA under the new IUCN guidelines. This flies in the face of the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity which aims to encourage nations to create MPAs that protect rare fish and corals, endangered marine mammals and migratory birds. 

“Canada should stick to IUCN definitions for MPAs and close fishing in the MPAs categorised as ‘no-take’ zones in its reports to IUCN,” Kim says. “If Canada wants to truly claim that its MPAs contribute to the long-term goals of ocean conservation and fisheries recovery, it must at least adhere to the best practices set out by the IUCN.”

It's not surprising that Canada is grasping at straws when it comes to finding 10 percent of its ocean ecosystems in protected areas. A new study released in by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) shows that Canada has fallen from 66th place (of the 172 signatories with coastlines) with only 0.63% of its territorial waters protected in 1990, to 100th place with the nominal increase to 1.25% in 2010. Given that Canada has the longest coastline in the world, ranking 100th in coastal protection is shocking.