by Susanna Fuller.
Canada’s three oceans have suffered over the last decade (and indeed before that time), primarily from a lack of focus in Ottawa on implementing our various laws and policies – including, but not limited to the Oceans Act and the Fisheries Act. As determined by the Royal Society of Canada in 2012, Canada has failed to protect its aquatic biodiversity, despite having the legal and policy framework to do so.
Canadians have not let this go easily, and have either protested publicly or gone ahead on their own. There was much ado about the changes to the Fisheries Act that took place in November 2013 and there are few other nations where changes to the Fisheries Act would have provoked such outcry, by scientists, former politicians and First Nations.
Cuts to marine science, including the closure of several federal libraries and the muzzling of scientists continued to make headlines into the fall of 2015. Other measures, including funding under the National Conservation Plan allocated funding for work that while much needed is now being downloaded to the academic, non-profit and, in some cases, industry sectors.
The new government has set out a refreshing new agenda for our oceans. The promises made are not trivial, and include meeting international targets for protected areas as well as reinstating significant cuts to Department of Fisheries and Oceans made over the past several years. The new government has made commitments to the following:
- Conduct a wholesale review of the changes to the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Act to re-establish lost protections and incorporate more modern safeguards.
- Increase the amount of Canada’s protected marine and coastal areas from 1.3% to 10% by 2020.
- Reverse the $40M cut from the federal governments ocean science and monitoring programs.
- Work with the provinces, Indigenous Peoples and other stakeholders to use our marine resources efficiently.
- Empower coastal communities to manage their resources and ensure smarter co-management of our oceans.
- Deepen our commitment to work with other governments to protect Canada’s freshwater through education, geo-mapping, watershed protection and infrastructure investments in the best waste water treatment technologies.
- Restore $1.5M in federal funding for freshwater research cut by the Conservatives in investments in Canada’s world leading International Institute for Sustainable Development Experimental Lakes Area.
Expectations are high, across the board, from Canadians seeking and voting for change. The challenge for the new government will be to select a Minister of Fisheries and Oceans who is able to break away from previous habits of succumbing to political lobbying and is willing to put in place new governance mechanisms that can begin to restore our oceans as well as the coastal communities who remain reliant on renewable fisheries resources for their existence.
In addition to the promises declared above, a new Minister will need to:
- be able to navigate the complexities of the ~60 endangered and threatened marine fish species impacted by and in some cases the target of commercial fisheries – which wait in limbo on the Species At Risk Act listing process.
- address the deep conflict that open net pen aquaculture has created in coastal communities.
- seriously contend with the promises of the previous government under Minister Gail Shea to implement the owner-operator policies that help to maintain fishing access in coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.
- commit to a “blue economy” that maximizes the value of our ocean resources to Canadians, with equity and conservation being foundational principles.
- oversee the re-investment in fisheries science, in an environment that is rapidly changing as the cumulative impacts of human activity, including the large problem of climate change, continue to affect our ocean biodiversity.
- re-commit to international obligations around oceans governance, including proactively engaging in the negotiating process for a new implementing agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ)
- Increase transparency and civil society input into ocean and fishery policy decisions as the Canada’s ocean is a public resource managed by the government on behalf of all Canadians.
There is an opportunity to bring real change to how we manage our fisheries and oceans, and this includes not just replacing what we have lost from a policy and funding perspective, but having the courage to rethink existing systems and work collaboratively to protect our ocean ecosystems so that they are able to support Canadians in the long term, with sustainable livelihoods. Oceans are likely to be a big topic at the Paris climate change negotiations in November – and that will be an excellent place for Canada to start.
Susanna Fuller is the Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.