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 forage species; eulachon, a small oily fish sustainably harvested for thousands of years by First Nations and used as a form of trading currency; fin whales, killer whales, and humpback whales; sea otters, a sentinel species and indicator of overall ecosystem health; as well as a vast array of invertebrate species that clamber for space on the sea floor and intertidal zone.
Industrial shipping, fishing pressure, net pen salmon farms and climate change all threaten to destabilize this coastal ecosystem. Marine plans and protected areas are needed to help stop overexploitation and damage of marine resources and ecosystems.
Marine Protection in the Great Bear Sea
First Nations and the provincial government are in the process of implementing the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) initiative to establish a template for marine plans and protected areas on the B.C. coast, which covers areas under provincial jurisdiction - the seafloor and water column, but not fisheries or shipping. While the completion of the MaPP plans was a milestone, much work remains to be done to protect the Great Bear Sea. First Nations, the Province of B.C., and the federal government are now engaged in a new process of designing a network of Marine Protected Areas for the region, called the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Areas Network (NSB MPA). A network is one alternative to protecting the entire region; its design will attempt to achieve conservation targets for a wide range of species and habitats through a network of individual areas selected to provide representation, replication, connectivity and other design elements.
Pacific Wild supports marine plans that put ecosystem integrity and First Nations rights and title at the foundation of all resource use and economic development decisions. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are meant to be free from destructive forms of resource exploitation. A series of well-managed MPAs where human activity is limited, including no-take zones (zones where no fish or seafood harvesting is permitted that cover at least 30% of the region) would allow ecosystems to recover and maintain functionality. These zones eventually act as reservoirs that replenish surrounding fish stocks. Right now, Canada's Oceans Act, the primary tool used to establish MPAs, contains no minimum legal protection standards for MPAs - no requirement for no-take zones and no automatic restrictions on any exploitation.
Pacific Wild staff brings more than two decades of direct field observations and local knowledge to the table as we represent conservation stakeholders on the Central Coast advisory committee, along with representatives from West Coast Environmental Law, who bring a long history of legal and policy research and action on marine protection. The Great Bear Sea Hydrophone Network is gathering data about marine mammals and ocean noise that will contribute to future MaPP indicator monitoring.
MPAs Alone Are Not Enough
Although MPAs are necessary, they are cannot on their own achieve biodiversity, fisheries, or food security objectives. MPAs offer little to moderate protection from threats outside of their boundaries, such as ocean acidification, contamination by toxins, and tanker noise. Furthermore, the exclusion of fishing pressure from an MPA can simply displace and concentrate that same amount of fishing pressure in an unprotected 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, when combined with the overall reduction in fishing quotas, lessens overexploitation of the resource. 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. These sustainable management tools not only enhance the long-term viability of a fishery, but also enhance the effectiveness of MPAs and marine planning in general.