A New Marine Regulatory Regime on BC’s Coast? - Part 1

These posts on BC’s marine regulatory regime originate from the February 2016 issue of the Environment and Energy Bulletin for the Business Council of British Columbia.

Part 1: New Protections for BC’s Coastal Waters – What is the Plan?


On March 16, 2016, the British Columbia government announced a new 110 square kilometre Class A Provincial Park near Prince George.  Quietly included in the same announcement was news that a marine park southeast of Gambier Island in Howe Sound would be expanded by 1.36 square kilometres to protect glass sponges. (Up to 9,000 years old, glass sponges are live, fragile formations whose skeletons are made of silica, making them vulnerable to damage due to physical disturbance).


Similarly, the widely publicised and celebrated Great Bear Rainforest Agreement announced on February 1, 2016 overshadowed a much less heralded but equally important development that more or less mirrors the coastline covered by the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) Agreement. The Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) for the North Pacific Coast was announced in April 2015, with the final action plan scheduled for completion in spring 2016.  Of interest, environmental groups have labelled this marine region the “Great Bear Sea” and are calling for greater protections, principally against the prospect of oil pipelines and tankers.  Does this suggest a parallel strategy by environmental groups for the north and central coast to that which has been successfully deployed on the land base?

How are regulation, management, planning and consultation being undertaken on the marine environment on BC’s coast?  Is there a coordinated approach? Are all appropriate users, rights holders and stakeholders participating?


New Management/Regulatory Developments

Like the GBR Agreement, the marine planning agreements involved more than a decade of negotiation by the parties (signatories are the BC government and 17 First Nations). Like the GBR Agreement, they also rely on an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach.  While the land-based management implications flowing from the GBR Agreement are relatively clear and have been widely publicised, the marine-based implications from the MaPP initiative (and other developments discussed below) are considerably less clear, and could have a substantial bearing on the future economic vitality of the BC coast. 


On the south coast, Parks Canada completed a feasibility study in 2012 for a proposed Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area Reserve. Conducted in partnership with the BC government from 2005 to 2011, it committed to working with area First Nations to assess the proposed Reserve, which would cover 1,400 km2 around the southern Gulf Islands.  Parks Canada would administer the Reserve, while other federal statutes (Fisheries Act, Canada Shipping Act) would apply, “consistent with conservation, ecologically sustainable use and the objectives for the conservation area.” Certain tenured areas (e.g. ferry docks, marinas) are to be excluded. What could this mean for future undersea cables and/or pipelines to serve Vancouver Island?

Protecting Glass Sponges

Preceding the mid-March 2016 Gambier Island announcement, in summer 2015 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) finalised a regulation under the Oceans Act to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA) for four glass sponge reefs in Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Strait covering approximately 2,400 km2.  The MPA falls within the MaPP area, but it is not clear that the MPA is part of an overarching management plan for the north/central coast. DFO’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) stated that the areas closed to halibut, prawn and bottom-trawling would result in negligible changes to the commercial catch for each fishery type. (The regulation focuses on the sea bottom, but some zones have vertical protections which could affect surface activities.) In June 2015, DFO also closed portions of Howe Sound and the southern Strait of Georgia to bottom trawling and trapping (commercial and recreational), to protect nine glass sponge reefs found there.  First Nations fishers were asked to voluntarily cease bottom fishing for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes in these areas until a full closure takes effect on April 1, 2016.


The next steps from these apparent ad hoc initiatives are important to understand from a resource planning and an economic perspective. Strategic issues arise from these marine plans and proposed conservation areas, which so far have received little scrutiny. In our view, there is a lack of coordination among governments for BC marine coastal planning, and potential for conflict between conservation and protection on the one hand, and other uses (including harvesting and freedom of movement) up and down BC’s coastal waters on the other. 

By Karen Graham, Consultant, Public Policy and Research, Business Council of BC

([email protected])


Denise Mullen, Director of Environment and Sustainability, Business Council of BC

([email protected]

Watch out for Part 2 Next Week

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