Lance Underwood has come to the conclusion that the federal government’s plans for new marine protected areas are not as advertised.
Underwood, a fisherman in Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island, sits on the advisory panel for the creation of the marine protected areas and has many concerns about the need for them on the west coast, and their implications for the fisheries.
“We are now approaching the year 2020, and after two years of engaging with government and environmental groups, we have seen a draft design of this Marine Protected Area Network,” he said.
“It is vast, running from central Vancouver Island all the way to Alaska, that will potentially remove thousands of fishermen from these productive and diverse fishing grounds. But the question is, how will it protect Canada’s oceans?”
MPAs are parts of the ocean that legally protect a range of species, habitats and features from the impacts of a variety of activities, including many aspects of fishing.
To date, Canada has established 14 MPAs under the Oceans Act, three National Marine Conservation Areas, one marine National Wildlife Area, and 59 marine refuges.
These areas now protect almost 14 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas.
“The federal government has been very public with their plans to protect 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025, and has touted a promise to increase protection above and beyond that 25 per cent in the next decade,” Underwood said.
“Since this promise was made, the government has been pretty shy about releasing plans to the general public about how they plan to achieve these levels of protection.”
Underwood said that when most people ponder the meaning of ocean protection, they think of preventing pollution and oil spills, encouraging habitat restoration, and combating the effects of climate change.
But he said MPAs don’t address any of these major issues and, in fact, the Marine Protected Area Network proposed for the west coast lacks any real conservation objectives that do any real protecting at all.
“Most of the world’s seriously depleted fish stocks are not here in western Canada, where we have a sustainable fisheries framework that has been working for many generations,” Underwood said.
“Most of the fisheries out here in the west are sustainably managed and have zero to little negative environmental impacts. Our fisheries employ thousands of multi-generational fishermen, have a low carbon footprint, and provide much needed food security and income for the people of Canada.”
Underwood said among the many problems that marine protected areas present for fish and fishermen is the issue of over crowding.
He said that by removing vast areas of fishing grounds, the government would force fishermen into smaller areas, causing harm to the fish populations in the open areas, and creating irreparable damage to the coastal economy and coastal communities.
“Fishermen have not been properly consulted in any meaningful way in the process of creating MPAs,” Underwood said.
“We are still hoping that it’s not too late and that fishermen will be given a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue.”
Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford, said efforts to establish marine protected areas have been ongoing for years, and their mandate is still a little vague.
“My understanding is that these areas are meant to be protected and preserved, but fishing will still be permitted within their boundaries to some degree,” he said.
Dr. Rashid Sumaila is the director of Ocean Canada, a research initiative which is involved with universities, community groups and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in establishing marine protected areas in Canadian waters.
He said the contention that the west coast fisheries are sustainably managed is not supported by the evidence.
“Our salmon stocks are on their knees, and the central coast stocks of Pacific herring, as well as Chinook salmon stocks on the west coast of Vancouver Island, are over fished,” Sumaila said.
As for the suggestion that the establishment of marine protected areas off the west coast of B.C. would force fishermen into smaller areas and do damage to fish stocks, Sumaila said that will happen only if the unprotected areas are not managed.
“What is needed is a comprehensive package to manage both the protected and unprotected areas,” he said.
Sumaila also said that, despite points to the contrary, there is increasing evidence that MPAs can help ecosystems mitigate the effects of climate change.