Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

It’s time for Canada to commit to oceans management plans

February 13, 2008
Conservation groups call for immediate action to conserve the health of marine ecosystems on Canada’s Pacific coast

Ottawa -- Environmental organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Living Oceans Society, and the Sierra Club of British Columbia are asking the federal government to commit to establishing a comprehensive marine-use and conservation-planning process for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), on Canada’s West Coast.

The environmental groups have set a target date of June 8, Oceans Day 2008, for government to demonstrate a commitment to improving oceans management or face increasing pressure from conservation groups, representing tens of thousands of Canadians, who want to stop the degradation of our marine environments.

PNCIMA includes waters of the Central Coast, North Coast, and Haida Gwaii on the British Columbia coast. This is an area of high ecological, social, and economic importance and encompasses approximately 88,000 square kilometres. Current management is inefficient, too narrowly focused, and contributes to unnecessary environmental degradation.

“Currently, salmon stocks are declining, critical habitat is being destroyed, and industrial activities such as shipping are on the increase,” said Bill Wareham, senior conservation specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation. “A comprehensive marine-planning process would enable the people who work and live on the coast to build a vision for sustainable economic development and conservation of the marine environment.”

The conservation groups involved in this initiative today delivered digital clocks set to count down the days to June 8, 2008, World Oceans Day, along with a series of steps they expect government to take, including:

A federal/provincial and First Nations protocol for marine-use planning;

A structure that encourages the participation of coastal residents;

A multidisciplinary team to conduct effective research and analysis on critical marine issues;

A marine-planning secretariat to operate the planning process.

“Over the next few months, we remain committed to working with government to find a way to launch an effective marine-planning process,” said Jennifer Lash, executive director of the Living Oceans Society. “However, if government fails to follow the path to success that we have identified, we will take action to ensure that Canadians are made aware of the threats to this spectacular region and the failure of government to implement Canada’s Oceans Strategy and live up to its international commitments.”


Contact Information

Ian Hanington, Communications Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation: 604-732-4228, X238

Jennifer Lash, Executive Director, Living Oceans Society: 250-741-4006

Bill Wareham, Senior Conservation Specialist, David Suzuki Foundation: 604-740-4318


PNCIMA Geography

Region covers 88,000 sq. km.

45,000 sq. kms. have already been identified as ecologically and biologically significant areas by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (over half of the entire area).

PNCIMA region covers approximately 22% of the total marine jurisdiction in Pacific Canada (from the coastline to the EEZ).

Extends from the continental slope to the headwaters of coastal watersheds (terrestrial and freshwater components are not part of this process).

Major water bodies within the region are Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait, and Dixon Entrance.


There are 34,504 residents in the PNCIMA communities.

36% of the residents are First Nations.

There are at least 25 communities in the PNCIMA, including Campbell River, Port McNeill, Port Hardy, Alert Bay, Sointula, Rivers Inlet, Bella Bella, Bella Coola, Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte City, Skidegate, and Masset.

Major industries include commercial fishing, aquaculture, shipping, forestry, and tourism.

Special Features to Bring Back to PNCIMA

There are 32 species listed as Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) that live in or migrate through the PNCIMA. A network of marine protected areas and ecosystem-based management developed through a marine-planning process would protect critical habitat and help restore populations of heavily depleted species.

North Pacific Right Whales

Most endangered whale in the world and most endangered species in PNCIMA.

Right whales were virtually extirpated from the PNCIMA region by 1850.

Recent sightings of a mother and calf in Alaska indicate that the species could come back if the right conditions are in place.

Blue Whale

Hunted to near extinction between 1905 and 1967.

Fewer than 250 animals in the Canadian Pacific.

Blues whales still inhabit the PNCIMA on a seasonal basis.

Basking Shark

The basking shark is the second-largest fish in the world, at up to five tons in weight and 15 metres in length.

Their numbers declined in the 1950s when they were slaughtered as “pests” when they were caught in commercial gillnets.

It is believed that they migrate through the PNCIMA region to Alaska.

The last sighting of a basking shark in B.C. was around the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Northern Abalone By 1984, abalone populations had declined by 75%.

Commercial fishery was shut down in 2000.

Abalone populations continue to decline due to illegal harvesting.

Within PNCIMA there are two stewardship programs (Haida Gwaii and Kitasoo/Xaisais) designed to improve reproduction Special Features at Risk in PNCIMA

Kelp Forests

The numerous bays, shores, and current-swept passages within PNCIMA are rich with kelp forests and eelgrass beds.

Kelp and eelgrass areas are residential, foraging, breeding, and nursery grounds for many fish and invertebrates.

Kelp forests and eelgrass beds are particularly vulnerable to oil spills, ships’ discharge, pollutants, and shoreline alteration.

Hexactinellid Sponge Reefs

There are four Hexactinellid sponge reefs located within the PNCIMA.

These reefs are over 9,000 years old and provide habitat for rockfish, crab, shrimp, prawns, sea stars, and urchins.

Research conducted by the Geological Survey of Canada has revealed that large areas of these ancient reefs have been destroyed by bottom trawling gear. Recovery can take 50 to 200 years.

These reefs have received some interim protection from bottom trawling through fisheries management plans; however, they must be permanently protected through designation as marine protected areas.

Cold Water Corals

Cold water coral is composed of tiny, fragile animals called coral polyps. The polyps are typically joined together into colonies of hundreds or thousands, which surround a skeleton.

Research shows that corals provide habitat for rockfish, Atka mackerel, shortspine thornyhead, juvenile Pacific halibut, rock sole, and several species of shrimp.

There are four coral areas within PNCIMA that have been identified as requiring immediate protection from bottom trawling. If destroyed, deep water corals could take 80 years to grow back, if they come back at all.

Examples of Industrial Threats


The threats from shipping include contamination from ships’ discharge and oil spills from accidents/collisions.

Over the next 15 years, the volume of containers being shipped through these waters is expected to increase 300%, bulk cargo ships are expected to increase by 25%, and cruse-ship traffic is expected to increase 20% to 25%.

There are at least four development projects planned that, if they go ahead, will allow more than 300 oil tankers per year through PNCIMA.

Bottom Trawling There are approximately 70 bottom-trawl vessels operating in B.C. Scientific research has shown that the impact of bottom-trawling gear is equivalent to clear-cutting the ocean floor. From 1996 to 2002, 2.3 million kilograms of non-fish species were harvested and destroyed, including habitat-forming corals and sponges. There are no measures in place to protect deep-water corals from the impacts of bottom trawling.

Fish Farms

There are at least 70 open net-cage salmon farm tenures in the PNCIMA. Scientific evidence shows that sea lice from fish farms are infecting juvenile wild salmon, leading to the decline of pink salmon. There are no effective regulations in place to protect wild salmon from the impacts of salmon farms.