Marine planning must balance environment and economy

Many sectors of our economy rely on our coastal waters as their “marine highway.”

In Part One of our examination, we looked at issues raised by coastal marine management and regulatory developments.

Now Karen Graham and Denise Mullen look further into it all.

Expect Federal Re-Engagement

Against the backdrop of the marine planning and regulatory developments on BC’s coast discussed in Part One, we expect the new federal government to re-engage in several ways:

  • Restore “lost protections” from the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act and “incorporate modern safeguards”;
  • Formalize a moratorium on crude-oil tanker traffic on BC’s North Coast (the international legality of which has been questioned in some quarters);
    • Restore funding to freshwater research, ocean science and monitoring, and support aquaculture industries on Canada’s coasts;
    • Increase the proportion of marine and coastal areas that is protected to 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020.

Not only is the government expected to be more activist (given the priorities above), but Ottawa also holds jurisdiction in several important coastal marine activities, including transport, fisheries, environment (shared), navigable waters, and marine safety.

The environmental movement has been clear that it views Marine Protected Areas and National Marine Conservation Areas as the minimal acceptable level of protection to satisfy its priorities. It will likely seek stronger protections for marine formations and attributes.

Many sectors of the BC and western Canadian economy rely on coastal waters as their “marine highway” to safely move goods and commodities to markets; people to and from their destinations (including for tourism); and as a source of economic activity in their own right (commercial and recreational fisheries, aquaculture).

Several of these sectors are notable generators of economic activity within BC, and have a substantial a share of the province’s goods exports. 

BC Exports by Commodity


Over the longer term, especially if the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is ratified, coastal industries such as aquaculture are well positioned to take advantage of lower tariffs (especially in Japan and Vietnam) and should be able to substantially expand their exports.

The sector will only be able to grow if the marine management regime effectively balances environmental protection with economic imperatives.

Questions arise about the implications of future protected and conservation areas, how these are coordinated with broader ecosystem-based management plans, and what new areas might be subject to future regulation.

Further—and most important to industries on the coast—is whether ad hoc regulation development could impede the ability to:

  • Transport goods and commodities in a cost-effective way through the region, or
  • Expand or start new marine-based industries associated with, e.g. fisheries or aquaculture. 

Could shipping routes from the Port of Prince Rupert be constrained? Could shipments from Canada’s number one-ranked port, Port Metro Vancouver, also be affected? 

Questions also arise about the “share of effort” that is appropriate in meeting Canada’s target of protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas. Through a variety of mechanisms such as marine parks and conservation zones, BC already enjoys a high degree of marine protection along its coast.


What Should a Sensible Coastal Regime Look Like?

Collaborative planning among the federal and provincial governments, First Nations groups and industry is essential.  BC’s coastal sectors have not been well served by the minimal level of engagement by governments to date.

The energetic efforts and substantial funding by environmental organizations focused on protecting BC’s coast—both land and sea—have outpaced the planning and consultation obligations of government at both senior levels. And industry sectors that use and rely on coastal waters need to engage more fully in the marine regulatory processes already underway.

The elements of a successful coastal regime should balance environmental and economic sustainability, incorporate long-range planning, and rest on the principles of:

  • Assured access to commercial transportation routes and future subsea infrastructure corridors;
  • Coastal marine environmental protection
  • Enhanced marine safety and monitoring (including adequate resources for such entities as the Coast Guard)

Such a regime should support the sustainability and growth of export sectors including energy products, wood products, agriculture, aquaculture and manufactured goods.

It should also acknowledge BC’s position as Canada’s Pacific Gateway, and recognise that BC’s small open trading economy underpins our high quality of life.

Our ability to export and to compete in global markets is foundational to maintaining a vibrant provincial economy.

Karen Graham is consultant, public policy and research, with the Business Council of BC. Denise Mullen is director of environment and sustainability at the council.

Our series originates from the February 2016 issue of the Environment and Energy Bulletin of the Business Council of BC.

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