The marine environment of the Great Bear Rainforest has few parallels in the world when it comes to biodiversity, richness and abundance. It is home to all five Pacific salmon species, the key building block of the rainforest and adjacent sea; Pacific herring, an important feeder species; eulachon, a small oily fish sustainably harvested for thousands of years by First Nations and used as a form of trading currency; fin, orca, and humpback whales; and sea otters, a sentinel species and indicator of overall ecosystem health. Integrated marine planning and protected areas are needed to help stop overexploitation and damage of marine resources and ecosystems.
Seventeen First Nations in the Great Bear and Haida Gwaii, and the Province of BC initiated the Marine Plan Partnership for the Pacific in 2011, and finalized planning for the 102,000 km2 region in 2016. These plans identify areas for various levels of protection and activities permissible within them. The plans also follow ecosystem-based management principles with goals and adaptive management to improve the social, economic, and ecological health of the region. One of the most progressive and ambitious goals of MaPP is to set up governance structures for marine management that include Indigenous Nations as equal partners with the Province. MaPP is now in the implementation stage, making progress on marine management and governance along many fronts.
While MaPP was in the planning stages, the former Canadian government would not engage in the process, which meant that marine uses under federal jurisdiction, namely fisheries and shipping, could not be included in the plans. In 2016 however, the new government began a collaboration with the Province and 17 member First Nations to develop a network of Marine Protected Areas for the region, referred to as the Northern Shelf Bioregion (NSB MPA).
The goals of the network are:
1. To protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features.
2. To contribute to the conservation and protection of fishery resources and their habitats.
3. To maintain and facilitate opportunities for tourism and recreation.
4. To contribute to social, community and economic certainty and stability.
5. To conserve and protect traditional use, cultural heritage and archaeological resources.
6. To provide opportunities for scientific research and awareness.
The NSB MPA planning process is currently at the stage of analyzing conservation gaps and identifying areas for consideration as MPAs within the network. New MPAs are expected to be designated by 2020-2022.
GBEAR team members participate in the stakeholder advisory committees for MaPP and the NSB MPA as the conservation sector representative for the Central Coast. We work with other organizations within the sector to contribute feedback on planning and implementation products. The Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network (GBHN) are gathering data about cetacean habitat use and ambient ocean noise that will be used for MaPP indicator monitoring.
What Kind of Marine Plan Do We Need?
We support marine plans that put sustainability and ecosystem integrity at the foundation of all resource use and economic development decisions. Marine management plans must be implemented to maintain a healthy marine environment, one that will continue to sustain the entire Great Bear Rainforest from sea to land. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are areas of ocean that are free from destructive forms of resource exploitation. A series of well-managed MPAs where human activity is limited, including no-take zones, or zones where no fish or seafood harvesting is permitted, except for Indigenous use, would allow ecosystems to recover and maintain functionality. In addition, coast-wide planning efforts that help to minimize the negative impacts of fishing and tanker traffic are needed to bolster the effectiveness of these MPAs and contribute to the overall health of the Great Bear Sea.
MPAs Alone Are Not Enough
Although MPAs are necessary, they are not sufficient alone in achieving biodiversity, fisheries, or food security objectives. MPAs offer moderate to little protection from threats outside of their boundaries, such as ocean acidification, ocean warming, contamination by toxins and tanker noise. Furthermore, the exclusion of fishing pressure from an MPA simply can displace and concentrate that same amount of effort in a smaller fished area elsewhere. Consequently, protection of species and ecosystems outside reserve boundaries must accompany MPA network design plans. Many novel and successful tools exist. For example the trade in by-catch quota in B.C.’s groundfish fishery reduces by-catch, and overall reduction in fishing quotas cuts overexploitation. Habitat degradation and designated access rights such as territorial user rights for fishing (TURFS) help to reduce the ‘race to fish’ mentality, while fishing co-operatives result in an increase in a fishery’s landed value (price per pound) by limiting total landed biomass. There are many sustainable management tools that can not only enhance the long-term viability of a fishery, but also enhance the effectiveness of MPAs and marine planning in general.