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Newly released MPA Guide assessments of Canadian federal MPAs published on

This week, MPAtlas history was made, as the first regional application of The MPA Guide framework was released for 18 Canadian marine protected areas. Evaluating Canadian MPAs necessitates careful consideration of important Indigenous fishing rights which are closely entwined with marine protections in Canada. Little is known about the impacts—or even the possible biodiversity benefits—of Indigenous fishing practices, although Indigenous rights are fundamental to The MPA Guide framework (as well as to Marine Conservation Institute’s Blue Park criteria). Below, we outline our assessment process for these 18 Canadian MPAs and explore how Indigenous rights and involvement influence a marine protected area’s Level of Protection.

Today, the first application of The MPA Guide assessment framework was released on the Marine Protection Atlas (MPAtlas) platform for eighteen Canadian marine protected areas (MPAs).

Our MPAtlas team partnered with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to conduct independent assessments of each MPA zone, including its Stage of Establishment and Level of Protection for all federal MPAs designated using Canada’s primary legislative marine protection tools.[1] CPAWS recently published their complimentary assessments in a new report,  The MPA Monitor: Assessing Canada’s Marine Protected Areas.

Canada counts additional MPAs and other effective conservation measures (OECMs) toward their total protected area coverage. However, the eighteen sites assessed are established and managed under arguably the strongest and most comprehensive legal tools in Canada, and thus should represent the best protected MPAs. Cumulatively, these MPAs cover approximately 8.3% of Canada’s ocean estate.

Canadian MPAs highlight some critical considerations in MPA design and management. Canada has committed to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples through implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The equitable co-governance of ocean spaces and the preservation of constitutional rights to access marine resources is integral to these commitments.

In Canada, Indigenous Peoples have constitutionally protected rights to fish and harvest marine resources, and many MPAs acknowledge these rights. Full Indigenous rights and access to fish in these areas does not necessarily mean that the practice is happening within these MPAs. However, for Indigenous People to formally relinquish those constitutionally protected rights could have political ramifications far beyond the scale of any individual site.

In most cases, the presence and extent of Indigenous fishing practices within MPAs is not well known. Without this information, assessing fishing impacts using The MPA Guide becomes challenging because it cannot fully account for the effects of all human activities on marine resources. Due to the lack of available information on Indigenous fishing and harvesting, and because Indigenous fisheries are likely at a small scale and low impact and may not impact biodiversity or ecosystem health,[2]  [3] CPAWS did not consider Indigenous fishing or harvesting in its analysis and scoring of sites. Future iterations of MPA analysis may include a more detailed assessment of Indigenous fishing, should data become available, as well as an assessment of Indigenous Peoples inclusion and leadership in MPA planning, governance, and management. Inclusion and recognition of Indigenous Peoples is integral to the successful implementation of Fully and Highly Protected MPAs and would help expand the reporting and evaluation of human activities within MPAs.

It is recognized in The MPA Guide framework that many MPAs hold significant spiritual or cultural importance and, thus, should be adequately preserved in recognition of those values. Additionally, good governance and equitable co-management are required in The MPA Guide as Enabling Conditions for effective protection. The MPAtlas platform reports MPAs where the scope and nature of Indigenous fishing is unknown, but whose regulations include language protecting Indigenous fishing rights, as Highly Protected from fishing impacts. The MPA Guide notes that extraction of marine resources for this purpose by Indigenous peoples can have variable impacts on density and diversity of marine communities and in some cases may even have positive impacts on biodiversity conservation. Highly Protected MPAs are meant to enable traditional spiritual and cultural practices and while also delivering biodiversity benefits similar to those described for Fully Protected areas. We may reassess these results when more information about the scope and impact of Indigenous fishing becomes available.

[1] This analysis focuses on MPAs established under the three primary legal tools for the designation of protected areas in the marine environment as these provide the most comprehensive protection from marine activities. These are:

• Oceans Act MPAs established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) under the Oceans Act and Interim MPAs established through a Ministerial Order,

• National Marine Conservation Area Reserves (NMCARs) established by Parks Canada Agency (PCA) under the National Marine Conservation Areas Act (NMCA Act), and

• Marine National Wildlife Areas (mNWAs) established by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) under the Canada Wildlife Act.

[2] Krumhansl KA, Bergman JN, Salomon AK. Assessing the ecosystem-level consequences of a small-scale artisanal kelp fishery within the context of climate-change. Ecol Appl. 2017 Apr;27(3):799-813. doi: 10.1002/eap.1484. Epub 2017 Mar 9. PMID: 27984678.

[3] Kobluk, HM, Gladstone, K, Reid, M, Brown, K, Krumhansl, KA, Salomon, AK. Indigenous knowledge of key ecological processes confers resilience to a small-scale kelp fishery. People Nat. 2021; 3: 723– 739.