Concerns with Canada’s Ocean Policy

Canada's OceansIncreasing acidity, thinning of sea ice in the Far North, depletion of life supporting oxygen in waterways, and the shifts in coastal wildlife populations are real concerns laid out in Canada’s State of the Oceans Report,2012. The causes of these issues range from natural cycles to industrial development and warn of trouble ahead. Oceans around the world are under pressure and face similar why should Canada be concerned. Importantly we have more coastline than anyone else..some 240,000 km of coastline, including a vast arctic region. This complex web of life contributes $38billion to our GDP, from gas , oil, fishing, and tourism . What supports this is under stress. Research and initiatives seem substantial, but there is much to do.

In 2002 Fisheries and Oceans drafted a national oceans strategy, which was inspired by the world leading 1996 Canada Oceans Act. This Act was the first piece of national legislation in the world that focused solely on ocean management. This was seen as a chance to approach ocean management as a whole instead of piecemeal attempts. It called for an integrated approach to address economic, environmental, and social issues. 5 marine protection areas were promised.  More than a decade later the strategy is drifting. Some work has been done , but the focus has been lost in the myriad of federal and provincial departments that have input.  There is a real lack of follow through and a need for actual, measurable protection…and the stress on the oceans continues to grow.

Consider that carbon dioxide emissions are a major cause of acidification. Acidification disolves calcium ,and so it should be no surprise when the commercial shell fish industries report reduced harvests. Canada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol a year earlier, and has not yet agreed to international emissions reduction targets. Rising sea levels threaten low lying communities, wetlands, and salt marshes. Warming waters have sent some species looking for cooler waters. Nature is trying to adjust to these new realities and not always with the best results . Pacific salmon stocks have dwindled.  Hypoxia (areas of depleted oxygen levels) has produced dead zones in some areas of the world, with pockets noted around Vancouver Island and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cod stocks were hit badly by over fishing have been replaced by crab and shrimp as primary species. Masses of floating plastic prove deadly to fish becoming entangled or mistaking the plastic for food


In particular with the warming waters of the Far North and the possabilty of year round shipping, is Canada ready to handle an oil spill in the Arctic. Questions like where would we allow aquaculture, wind farms, or where we might not allow certain types of shipping will become relevant.

Shipping in the Arctic in 2050.

Canada’s National Conservation Plan(2014) includes $252 million in funding over 5 yrs for a variety of conservation issues. $37 million is directed at marine and coastal conservation. With that Fisheries and Oceans Canada will continue to establish marine protected areas(MPA’s) addressing ecological needs and socio-economic needs. A national network of MPA’s  sounds nice but Canada has protected only 3% of ocean territory , while Australia has a national network of some 30%.

Australia’s Marine Reserves

Let’s keep pushing for reducing the reasons for climate change…reduce green house gases, and speed up the setting aside of Marine Protected Areas.




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