Managing Healthy Oceans

More than 25% of Canadians live on or near the coast, and healthy coasts and oceans are similarly important to our wellbeing as terrestrial ecosystems. With the longest coastline in the world and bound by three oceans, Canada has deep cultural and economic connections to marine ecosystems.

Healthy oceans are the foundation of prosperous coastal communities and sustainable ocean livelihoods in Canada including fisheries and aquaculture, tourism, marine research, and shipping. Beyond jobs, healthy and resilient oceans are critical for maintaining food security and a liveable climate for people and as habitat for millions of species that rely on marine ecosystems.

Our oceans are under increasing pressure. Already undermined by multiple stressors including historic overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution, the climate crisis is now driving ocean warming, acidification, shifts in currents, and changes to species’ ranges — all contributing to an escalation of risk to ocean resilience and its ability to support people.

Healthy habitats and fish populations can buffer ocean ecosystems against the worst effects of climate change. A just, adaptive, and ecosystem-based approach to ocean management is needed to address rapidly changing conditions, rebuild biodiversity, and increase resiliency. Over the past few years, we have seen welcome attention and reinvestment by the federal government in an ambitious ocean strategy to modernize Canada’s ocean governance. However, after the previous decade or more of cuts to management capacity, science and research, and enforcement infrastructure, these core functions remain underfunded — threatening to stall progress. In order to address the increasing complexity of oceans management in a rapidly changing environment and to rebuild abundance, continued increases in investment are needed.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends that the federal government:

  1. Develop and actively implement robust Marine Spatial Plans that support MPA network establishment, in collaboration with Provincial and Indigenous Government partners;
  2. Significantly improve marine monitoring, research, compliance and enforcement infrastructure and capacity;
  3. Increase fisheries science and management capacity to act rapidly on commitments to rebuild fish stocks and protect marine species- at-risk;
  4. Ensure environmental sustainability within all aquaculture programs; and
  5. Reduce Spill Risks and Biodiversity Impacts from Marine Shipping.

1) Develop and  actively implement robust Marine  Spatial Plans that support MPA network establishment, in collaboration with Provincial and  Indigenous government partners.

Canada is currently in the early stages of developing Marine Spatial Plans in four bioregions (Salish Sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Scotian Shelf and Newfoundland and Labrador Shelf ). Marine Spatial Planning brings together governments, resource users and communities to conduct regional level assessments of resource use and conservation needs that provide a sound basis for integrated marine management and conservation. These plans can be instrumental in supporting and providing an essential context for the designation and management of MPAs and MPA networks (including National Marine Conservation Areas) which have been addressed in the previous section.

Successful Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), including MPA  network planning, requires effective co- governance and co-management structures involving federal departments, provincial and territorial governments, and Indigenous governments and peoples. Indigenous governments have a strong role to play in the development and implementation of marine plans, many Indigenous communities have already developed marine and land-use plans. It also requires robust engagement of stakeholders and communities, as well as the collection of detailed and current ecological and socio-economic data. MSP provides an opportunity for direct investment in communities through stakeholder support funding and the creation of meaningful and culturally relevant jobs, as well as indirect investment in local goods and services. The resulting plans need to be regularly evaluated and revised through adaptive management. Adequate funding is required to support these processes and structures over the planning phase as well as into the implementation phase.

Recommended Investment:

Develop and actively implement MSP (in addition to recommendation for MPAs in earlier recommendation): $118 million in 2020-2022 (which may include stimulus funding), and then $48 million per year ongoing.  [DFO]

2) Significantly improve marine monitoring, research, compliance and enforcement infrastructure and capacity

Research, monitoring, and enforcement capacity on our oceans have been drastically reduced through a combination of direct funding cuts and subsequent lack of reinvestment. Canada now faces significant and consequential annual data gaps due to research vessel breakdown that hinders our ability to assess and manage fisheries both domestically and as part of international management organizations. A lack of vessels and personnel also affects the coverage of compliance and enforcement monitoring in the inshore and offshore. Onboard and dockside fisheries monitoring, observing, and data collection is often failing to achieve coverage targets. Significant restructuring is needed to ensure modern, scientifically sufficient, safe, and reliable programs. There is growing acceptance that Electronic Monitoring (EM) systems will help all fleets meet data and transparency challenges. The Green Budget Coalition recommends that DFO  fund EM innovation and standard development. In addition to filling these current gaps, as Canada continues to increase marine protected areas to meet conservation targets, there will be increased need for improved research and monitoring capacity to support effective protection and adaptive management.

Improving monitoring and enforcement presents a significant opportunity for stimulus and recovery investment that creates long-term and meaningful career opportunities, particularly within coastal communities that have been struggling with economic decline and job loss for decades. These opportunities would be of particular value to fishing communities and Indigenous communities and could dovetail with investment in protected area establishment, MSP, and improved resource management. Investment in vessel and equipment production and repair would inject funding directly into coastal economies, supporting skilled jobs within SMEs.

Canada has demonstrated its commitment to combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing globally with our National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (NPOA-IUU) actions, the G7 initiative, support for Global Fishing
Watch, and with critical international enforcement and intelligence partnerships — it is crucial for Canada to continue this work. In particular, the Green Budget Coalition recommends renewed support for the G7 initiative and the anti-IUU work and partnerships in the North West and Western Central Pacific to enhance this critical work that safeguards marine abundance and reduces crime.

Recommended Investment:

Review observer and dockside monitoring programs and finalise gaps in guidance under the National Catch Monitoring Policy. Invest through government/industry cost-sharing or pilot projects to immediately increase to 100% coverage with at least 20% auditing on active, high impact gear through a combination of human observers and electronic monitoring: $60 million over two years [DFO]

Invest in enforcement personnel and necessary boarding inspection equipment: $75 million over three years [DFO]

Renew G7 initiative and international anti-IUU intelligence partnerships in the Pacific: $11 million over three years [DFO]

3) Increase fisheries science and management capacity to act rapidly on commitments to rebuild fish stocks and protect marine species-at-risk

Acknowledging that many Canadian fisheries are challenged in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Green Budget Coalition believes that specific stimulus investment should be considered beyond those needed for immediate financial support for fisheries and processors. Now is the time to also invest in transformational initiatives that help us to better understand and manage fisheries and to increase the probability of ensuring sustainable fishing quotas and practices are implemented over time.

Since 1970, the estimated biomass of Canada’s fish stocks has been reduced by 52%. Over 30% of fish stocks are now in the ‘cautious’ or ‘critical’ zones and need immediate rebuilding attention and precautionary management plans. A 2019 report by the Auditor General (OAG) highlighted the need for DFO to better manage, update and improve fish stock data, and to rebuild fish stocks in Canada.

Degraded habitat and depleted fish populations from coast to coast to coast have ripple effects through entire ecosystems and the long-term economic sustainability of the fisheries that rely upon them. For example, precipitous declines of mackerel and herring populations are affecting the health of Atlantic bluefin tuna and in turn the price they fetch in this once lucrative fishery. Failure to rebuild chinook salmon populations in the Pacific is decimating Indigenous rights, recreational and commercial fishery economies and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales protected under the Species At Risk Act (SARA).

Over 30 aquatic species with a COSEWIC designation of threatened or endangered continue to await listing under SARA  or recovery actions under the Fisheries Act. There are also dozens of freshwater and marine species listed under SARA  now awaiting critical habitat declarations and the required recovery action plans.

The Green Budget Coalition recognizes recent federal government investments to better protect fish, modernize the Fisheries Act, protect species at risk, and establish new recovery initiatives for priority species. However, significant gaps remain. Investment is needed to continue to enhance Canada’s capacity to undertake more frequent stock assessments, improve knowledge of data poor fisheries, drive progress on rebuilding plans required under the improved Fisheries Act, clear the backlog of species awaiting SARA  listing decisions and action, and implement ecosystem-based fisheries management.

Continued re-investment in core government responsibilities of Canada’s ocean and freshwater governance is critical if we are to recover marine biodiversity for sustainable use. This investment would also provide long term job opportunities for physical and social scientists, managers, and enforcement personnel.

There is an opportunity for the government to work with and invest in partnerships to deliver its ambitious commitments and mandates. Recognition of Indigenous knowledge and governance are essential for rebuilding to healthy oceans. Enabling policies and investment in community-led management options will serve to create direct jobs and spin off investments in rural coastal communities. Directly supporting community management boards, NGOs, Indigenous people who can lead research work, co-management, community quota and license banks, co-operatives, and monitoring will spur innovation and more adaptable ocean management options that can respond to rapidly shifting ocean ecosystems. These partnerships will also be critical as the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard develops Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy.

Recommended investments are needed to:

  • Finalize policies, enhance management structures and improve science capacity to implement Canada’s new Fisheries Act requirements for science-based rebuilding plans and to fully implement DFO’s Sustainable Fisheries Framework;
  • Establish science-based catch limits, harvest control rules, and management plans that integrate ecosystem-based fisheries management frameworks in all fisheries;
  • Establish enabling policies and investment in community-led research and management options;
  • Recognize Indigenous governance and integrate Indigenous knowledge in management plans and assessments;
  • Establish multi-stakeholder and rights holder advisory committees and working groups to help shape Blue Economy Strategy built on safe-guarding our ocean abundance through sustainable use;
  • Develop and implement recovery plans either through SARA  or the Fisheries Act as soon as a marine species is assessed as threatened or endangered by COSEWIC;
  • Conduct a review of potential SARA policies and regulations that would improve implementation and make the legislation more effective for protecting aquatic species; and
  • Fund and support the reestablishment of the Species at Risk Advisory Committee as well as species-specific multi-stakeholder efforts such as the North Atlantic right whale recovery network.

Recommended Investment for fisheries rebuilding and continued implementation of new Fisheries Act :
$175 million over five years

Recommended Investment for aquatic Species At Risk:
$130 million over five years

4) Ensure environmental sustainability within all aquaculture programs

Properly managed, sustainable aquaculture has the potential to benefit Canadians and support coastal and rural communities, including Indigenous communities. However, open net pens in the ocean can have unacceptable impacts on wild fish, benthic habitat, and the larger ocean ecosystem.

Significant investment is required to implement the government’s commitment to remove open net pen aquaculture from the ocean ecosystem. Continued investment is also required to address the concerns identified by the Auditor General in 2018 that DFO is not adequately managing the risks associated with salmon aquaculture consistent with its mandate to protect wild fish and fish habitat. This is critical for both the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends that DFO’s Sustainable Aquaculture Program be expanded to include a cross-department approach to ensure that the aquaculture industry does not harm ocean health or infringe on Indigenous rights. The recommended investment would support:

  • Monitoring, compliance and enforcement;
  • Improved transparency and public reporting;
  • Research on environmental effects, especially disease and parasite impacts and management for wild salmon;
  • Land-based aquaculture systems research, science, and innovation; and
  • Alternative species production and farming practices to support land-based systems.

Recommended  Investment:
$125 million over five years

5) Reducing Spill Risks and Biodiversity Impacts from Marine Shipping

Half of Canada’s wildlife species are in decline. Disturbance, oil spills, strikes, and pollution from ships can severely impact critical habitat as well as community food security and health. Putting measures in place to eliminate dumping and other harmful impacts from shipping in marine protected areas, requiring the use of advanced treatment systems for grey water and sewage, and banning the use of ‘scrubbers’ in Canadian waters would significantly reduce cumulative impacts and safeguard ocean and coastal community health.

Recommended  Investments:

$15 million over five years, starting immediately, to prepare for 2024 when an international ban on HFO in the Arctic comes into effect, for a fuel transition fund to support the phase out of polluting HFO  to lighter, less polluting fuels in the shipping industry. [TC,  ECCC]

By supporting the transition to cleaner fuels, this new fund would help reduce the risks of oil spills and their impact on the marine environment, which communities depend on for food, and thus help prevent food price increases.

Developing Policy Tools

$20 million over two years for policy research and stakeholder engagement [TC,  ECCC, DFO]  to:

•   Ban the use of ‘scrubbers’ (also known as Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems) in Canadian waters to eliminate the dumping of contaminated discharge water; and

•   Mandate the use of Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems in Canadian waters for sewage and greywater, and implement national policies, including in the Arctic, to prevent the dumping of any effluent, treated or untreated, from ships within 24 miles of the coast and in marine protected and Indigenous protected and used areas.

Recommendations for Generating Revenue: [TC]

•   Establish a Vessel Pollution Control Fund: Require the collection of fees from vessels and deposit such fees in the Fund for use in carrying out the programs specified above.

•   Cruise Tourism: Require the collection of a fee for every passenger who comes into Port in Canadian waters to fund enforcement, monitoring, and environmental initiatives such as treatment and shore power.

•   Insurance Fund: Establish a legally enforced insurance fund paid by the marine sector for local communities, public health, and the environment that are negatively impacted by the shipping industry’s activities. This fund could help with any negative disruptions that the industry has on people and the environment where it does business. This fund would ensure that there is proper compensation for those people amid any potential disruption or disaster, including crew affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthy Oceans
Shannon Arnold –
Jay Ritchlin –

Andrew Dumbrille –