November 16, 2010

VANCOUVER — Fishing is allowed in all but one per cent of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) on Canada’s Pacific coast, according to a study conducted by Living Oceans Society and published in Marine Policy this month. This is in spite of the fact that over half of the MPAs are rated as “strictly protected” and are intended to prohibit all fishing.

“Marine Protected Areas should be safe havens where species can regenerate, but the great majority of our MPAs are really just paper parks that offer almost nothing in the way of ocean conservation or sustainable fisheries,” says Kim Wright, Living Oceans Society’s Marine Planning and Protected Areas Campaign Manager.

To build an effective network of MPAs, federal, provincial and municipal government agencies that designate MPAs need to ensure that the appropriate fishing closures are put in place by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The Marine Policy article, Commercial Fisheries Closures in Marine Protected Areas on Canada’s Pacific Coast: The Exception, not the Rule, reveals all levels of government are failing to coordinate their efforts and provide real protection for the ocean ecosystem.

Dr. Isabelle Côté, a Marine Protected Area specialist and professor at Simon Fraser University says that this study emphasizes the need to improve our network of MPAs if we want to reap the benefits. “Marine reserves, in which no fishing is permitted, increase the abundance and diversity of marine life within their boundaries,” says Côté. “This study shows that the MPAs on Canada’s Pacific coast are less likely to show the same positive effects.”

Living Oceans Society is calling on the federal and provincial governments to address this issue coast wide, starting with the region known as the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) which extends from Vancouver Island north to the Alaska Border. The federal government, First Nations governments and stakeholders are currently working together to develop a marine plan for this region. According to Living Oceans Society, this is the perfect opportunity for all parties to work together to upgrade and improve the existing network of MPAs.

This will also help Canada live up to its international commitment, through the Convention on Biological Diversity, to build a network of MPAs by 2012 that encompasses 10 per cent of every habitat type globally.

“As the nation with the longest coastline in the world, it is shocking so few MPAs exist and that fishing is allowed in almost all of them, including those classified as strictly protected,” says Wright.


Living Oceans Society analysis on Marine Protected Areas and fisheries closures

The objective of the study, Commercial Fisheries Closures in Marine Protected Areas on Canada’s Pacific Coast: The Exception, not the Rule, was to discover how many of Canada’s Pacific marine protected areas (MPAs) are closed to commercial fishing. Canada is a world leader in ocean management, yet it can be demonstrated through this research that fishing activity is permitted in 99 per cent of the MPAs on Canada’s Pacific coast.


Maps of all federal, provincial and municipal MPAs were mapped using data from the Province of British Columbia, Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) and the Canada Gazette.

Management plans for all the MPAs were reviewed to determine the level of protection each protected area was supposed to meet and identify the IUCN category assigned it by managers.

Fisheries management plans and fisheries notices were reviewed to determine all permanent, year-round commercial fisheries closures for 29 different fisheries.

Maps of the MPAs and the commercial fisheries closures on Canada’s Pacific coast were overlaid using GIS.

We summed the number of fisheries allowed in each MPA according to each IUCN category.


As of 2008, 161 MPAs had been designated on the Pacific coast of Canada by federal, provincial or municipal authorities. Fisheries are permitted in all but one of them.

The total marine area within MPAs was found to be almost 9,000 km2, which represents slightly less than two per cent of Canada’s Pacific Exclusive Economic Zone. Ninety-five of Canada’s 161 Pacific MPAs have been classified as “strictly protected’ using IUCN categories, which mean fisheries should not occur. Living Oceans Society’s study shows that fisheries are permitted in all of these.

Only one MPA in the Canadian Pacific and sections of three others are closed to all commercial fishing. The area that is off limits to commercial fisheries is 3,575 km2, which translates to 0.8 per cent of Canada’s Pacific waters.


Canada is failing to implement fisheries closures that ensure each MPA is meeting its conservation objectives.



  • Better coordination between the management of fisheries and the management of protected areas in Canada’s Pacific waters is necessary.


Existing MPAs need to be examined to ensure that appropriate management is in place.

Future MPAs should be established using integrated management processes to ensure that cross jurisdictional issues are addressed during establishment, management and enforcement.

As the Canadian government proceeds with building networks of MPAs, it must ensure that the necessary regulations and management plans are in place to meet the objectives intended by their protected area designations.

Canada and its International Commitments

Canada has the longest coastline in the world.

A no-take MPA, also known as a marine reserve, is intended to provide full protection to habitats and species from fishing. They have been shown to provide benefits that include greater productivity of fish stocks due to increased densities, average sizes and reproductive output.

Canada has made an international commitment as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity to build a network of MPAs by 2012, in which at least 10 per cent of each ecological region will be effectively conserved.

About Living Oceans Society

Living Oceans Society believes that people are part of the environment and that by protecting B.C. coastal ecosystems, we can build sustainable communities today and for our children. Our vision is to ensure the long-term health of the ocean and coastal communities on the Pacific coast of Canada.

We advocate for marine planning that is science-based, informed with traditional and local knowledge, and is inclusive of stakeholders. Our priority is the marine planning process in the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA). To support this process Living Oceans Society:

Provides a free online library of maps illustrating our coast’s ecological riches and present real data to inform important marine issues and planning processes.
Co-chairs the British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis (BCMCA), a collaborative mapping project which has compiled and analyzed the best ecological and human use data available for the coast. Living Oceans Society spearheaded the BCMCA by bringing together government representatives, scientists, marine resource user groups, other ENGOs and First Nations to assemble data products designed to help with integrated marine planning and MPA network design.

Conducts research and analysis such on issues such as MPAs, bycatch, and deep sea coral to inform marine planning.

An abstract of the report can be downloaded here.


Cathryn Atkinson

Cathryn Atkinson is the former News and Features Editor for Her career spans more than 25 years in Canada and Britain, where she lived from 1988 to 2003. Cathryn has won five awards...