April 21, 2021

Historic investment in ocean protection welcomed by conservation groups

$976.8 million investment over five years supports Canada’s commitment to protect at least 25% of its ocean by 2025

August 29, 2019

Progress in Canadian Ocean Law: 2015-2019

In 2015, Ministerial mandate letters charged three federal Ministers with responsibility for reforms on fisheries, protected areas, shipping, and wildlife protection. These commitments, along with the Oceans Protection Plan announced a year later, have resulted in tremendous change in the ocean’s legal landscape in Canada. A new report from SeaBlue Canada charts this progress.

August 1, 2019

In four short years, Canada’s ocean protection has increased by leaps and bounds

Since 2015, Canada has increased both the quality and the quantity of ocean protection in Canadian waters. Today, it was announced that in just four years, the percentage of ocean under protection leapt from just over one percent to more than 13 per cent. Marine protected areas have been established in all three ocean basins.

In addition, Canada has committed to new national marine protection standards, which prohibit oil and gas development, mining, dumping and bottom trawling in all new national MPAs. There is still work to be done, including writing these new protection standards into law, and extending them to marine refuges put in place under the Fisheries Act, as well as creating a process to recognize and fund Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas in the marine environment.

With the global ocean facing increasing risk from the effects of climate change, pollution and industrial activity, the need to protect ocean ecosystems and increase resilience is clear, and MPAs are effective in providing refuge for species and habitats that are sensitive to threats. While MPAs are one important tool, it is necessary to ensure that 100 per cent of our ocean is well managed to continue to provide for sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity protection.

Photo by Nick Hawkins.

May 28, 2019

Updates to Canada’s Oceans Act are a welcome change for ocean protection

Bill C-55, which includes important and much-needed changes to Canada’s Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act recently passed royal assent. The Oceans Act has particular significance for marine conservation, as it is Canada’s marine protection and management law. Originally passed in 1996, it guides the creation of Marine Protected Areas in Canada’s coastal and ocean waters. The changes introduced through Bill C-55 have been applauded by environmental groups across Canada as an important step for marine protection in the face of increasing risks to the marine environment brought on by climate change, pollution and industrial development.

Bill C-55 will:

  1. Protect important biodiversity areas, fast. C-55 Allows for interim protection of important ocean areas, which ensures that human impacts do not increase until  protection measures can be agreed upon by stakeholders and rightsholders. 
  2. Streamline a previously inefficient process and allow for more effective protection of the marine environment. Canada’s marine protected areas have tended to take ~6-8 years, frustrating stakeholders and rights holders, and failing to engage the Canadian public.
  3. Enshrine the ‘precautionary approach’, a key tenet of modern conservation which reinforces the duty to prevent harm in the face of scientific uncertainty. C-55 helps decision-makers do what is right for biodiversity, species at risk and valuable fish stocks by incorporating the precautionary approach and the concept of ecological integrity – both of which are critical factors in protecting the ocean.
  4. Enable the creation of marine protected area network plans, the gold standard in ocean protection.  Networks allow for connectivity between protected areas and can lead to improved biodiversity conservation, as well as allowing for the inclusion of various tools for protection within a network. 

C-55 also amends the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, which allows government to follow through on the commitment made earlier this year to prohibit oil and gas, along with other industrial activities, within MPAs. Bill C-55 is an important step on the path towards ocean protection and reflects two decades of progress in ocean law and science. These updates are an important milestone in Canada’s ocean legacy, and sets a new foundation for marine conservation in Canada. 

Photo by Nick Hawkins.

May 13, 2019

Canada announces new standards for marine protected areas and designates first area under new guidelines

Last month, the Government of Canada announced that all newly created marine protected areas (MPAs) will now prohibit oil and gas, bottom trawling, mining and dumping within their limits, marking an important step for marine conservation.

Canada, which has the longest coastline of any country, has committed to protecting 10% of its coasts and ocean by 2020, in line with international biodiversity targets.

While many new MPAs have been created since the target was set, there have been numerous concerns about the quality of protection, and the fact that harmful activities may still be allowed within protected areas.

In order to reach its protection targets, Canada has used powers under the Fisheries Act to protect 4.48% areas contributing to the 10% target. Known as “marine refuges,” these areas are distinct from MPAs, which are designated under the Oceans Act. Until now, Canada has been counting these refuges towards its protection target even though they remained open to harmful industrial activities such as oil and gas extraction. A case-by-case approach will be applied for allowances for industrial activities, with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans having the ultimate say in the matter. With this announcement, Canada has also clarified that marine refuges where oil and gas is allowed will not count towards conservation targets.

“Overall, this is a major step forward for marine protection in Canada,” says Marine Conservation Specialist, Jordy Thomson of the Ecology Action Centre. By imposing a strong set of standards for MPAs, as well as clarifying what counts towards the 10% target, Canadians can now have more confidence that these protections are meaningful and keep destructive activity out of important areas and away from sensitive and vulnerable marine species.

Canada has now also officially designated the Laurentian Channel as an MPA under Canada’s Oceans Act. The Channel is an important migratory passage for right whales, leatherback turtles and many other species. This 11,580–square-kilometre submarine valley will become the largest protected area in Atlantic Canada, bringing Canada’s total marine protection to 8.27%.

In 2017 and 2018, public outcry about oil and gas development in the Laurentian Chanel resulted in more than 70,000 Canadians urging the Federal Government to improve protection and bar oil and gas. “Over the last couple of years, concerned citizens sent thousands of emails to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which is now resulting in stronger protections for Canada’s wildlife.” Said WWF-Canada President, Megan Leslie. “This is proof that when we speak up for wildlife, we can make a difference. This important first step in protecting critical habitats will give marine species safe havens that are free of seismic blasting and drilling.”

The Canadian government is now in the process of modernizing its Fisheries Act and amending both the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. When passed into law, these reforms will provide a strong backbone for protecting both marine species and the Indigenous and coastal communities that depend on them.

January 23, 2019

Canada’s marine refuges need an upgrade, says new SeaBlue Canada report

Photo: Nick Hawkins

HALIFAX, January 22, 2019 A new report from SeaBlue Canada reveals that more than half of Canada’s marine refuges, a form of marine protected area in Canada, do not meet international standards. While Canada has made significant progress to protect its marine and coastal environment, the report shows stronger standards are required to effectively conserve biodiversity.

Since 2015, Canada has designated 7.9 per cent of the ocean as protected areas. However, with more than half of that protected under Fisheries Act measures areas referred to as marine refuges many harmful industrial practices can still continue. Fisheries Act measures restrict fishing impacts and some other harmful activities but cannot protect against many other significant threats to the marine environment.

“We want to ensure that Canada’s efforts to protect marine wildlife are meaningful and effectively preserve biodiversity and habitats,” says Susanna Fuller of Oceans North, a co-author of the report. “Right now, there are several areas where improvements need to be made and we urge decision-makers take our recommendations seriously.”

Using publicly available information, the report reviewed all 51 areas protected through the Fisheries Act and assessed how these areas met criteria set out by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as well as guidance recently adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which Canada is a signatory. Meeting CBD criteria determines if sites can count as “protected” at an international level. Canada has committed to revisiting its marine refuges following the adoption of international guidance.

The majority of current fisheries closures prohibit all bottom fishing activities and have been put in place to protect fragile sponge and coral communities. Some were designed to protect a single species or prohibit only a single type of fishing gear.

“When assessed according to new international guidelines, only 40 per cent of the total area closed under the Fisheries Act met this guidance,” says Travis Aten, lead author of the report. “The remaining 60 per cent need a variety of improvements to meet globally accepted standards, and we provide specific recommendations for these improvements.”

“The bulk of Canada’s protected ocean areas, known as marine refuges, are at risk from oil and gas exploration and development,” says Sigrid Kuehnemund, vice president of oceans conservation at WWF-Canada. “These activities cannot be prohibited by the Fisheries Act, and as a result, supposedly protected sensitive habitats remain vulnerable to oil and gas impacts such as disturbance of the seabed, exposure to drill muds and of potential oil spills. We need minimum standards for all protected ocean areas. Biodiversity depends on it.”

The fishing industry has worked with government and conservation organizations to set aside areas for protection. SeaBlue Canada recommends that in order to maintain the trust of the fishing industry and Canadians, it is imperative these areas be protected from other industrial activities that threaten fish and fish habitat, including oil and gas.

Major recommendations of the report include:

  • Update national guidance to align with international standards, particularly as Canada can set an example for other countries by improving marine refuges to more fully align with international standards.
  • Pass the amended Fisheries Act, currently in second reading at the Senate of Canada, to ensure these areas become permanently protected through ecologically special areas provisions.
  • Clearly identify monitoring and management for each marine refuge to ensure biodiversity is being effectively conserved.
  • Smaller areas that only protect a single species should be removed from consideration as marine refuges when they do not contribute to the overall protection of biodiversity, despite being important fisheries management measures.
  • Review the Atlantic Offshore Accord Agreements so that oil and gas exploration and development is restricted from areas closed to protect fish and fish habitat.

A report summary is also available.

About SeaBlue Canada

SeaBlue Canada is a coalition of six national conservation organizations including Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and World Wildlife Fund Canada. Together, they are working to ensure that Canada’s marine and coastal protected areas are well protected and set an example for ocean conservation globally.



For more information contact:

Susanna Fuller, Senior Project Manager, Oceans North



Antonella Lombardi, communications specialist, WWF-Canada 647-668-4613


Photos: Nick Hawkins

February 19, 2018

The problems with the new Canadian Navigable Waters Act

The Canadian government recently introduced Bill C-69, claiming that this legislation delivers on a campaign promise to “restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards” in several environmental statutes. Continue reading

February 8, 2018

An international plastics treaty could avert a “Silent Spring” for our seas

Global problems – like our plastic-choked seas – need global solutions.

It was welcome news when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will use its year-long G7 presidency to turn the global spotlight on ocean plastics and pollution.


February 6, 2018

New Fisheries Act Restores Lost Protections and Adds Modern Safeguards

Fisheries Act amendments show promise, but true test will be in implementation

Today, the Government of Canada tabled a new Fisheries Act, with the goal of upgrading the Act to restoring protections that were lost as part of the 2012 Omnibus budget Bill as well as add modern safeguards. The Fisheries Act hasn’t seen tangible improvement since it was created in 1868 and has not included a purpose section since amendments were made in 1996.


February 1, 2018

Emergency order aims to protect resident orcas

Canada is losing a lot of its wildlife. The World Wildlife Fund’s 2017 Living Planet Report Canada found half the monitored mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish species declined from 1970 to 2014. Threatened and endangered species continue to disappear despite federal legislation designed to protect them and help their populations recover. What’s going wrong?


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