Canada Climate Politics Ocean Conservation

Canada’s Oceans Act and Bill C-55: Be A Part of History

I live in one of the most extraordinary places on this planet.

Home to the largest coastline in the world, three commanding oceans, and some of the greatest biodiversity Earth has to offer.

But these oceans are in trouble and they need our help. The current Canadian legislation does not adequately protect our shares of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Ocean and its shortcomings are creating devastating lifelong impacts on our seas and the creatures that inhabit it.

Climate change is warming our oceans at an alarming rate, melting ice caps in the Arctic and causing Pacific fish species to move further north, impacting coastal communities who rely on this catch. The continued allowed exploration for oil and gas in our oceans is only fueling this race for dirty energy even more.

Overfishing is the greatest threat to our ocean right now and Canada is a country dependent on healthy fish stocks, being the seventh largest fish exporter in the world. Despite this, there are no prohibitions on unsustainable fishing methods in marine protected areas; in fact, there are no laws currently preventing fisherman from bottom trawling in areas that are supposed to be considered sanctuaries.

Many have turned to aquaculture as a solution to depleted fish stocks, attempting to farm raise salmon the same way the agriculture industry raises cows for consumption. Only aquaculture is being exercised recklessly along our coastlines, introducing toxic waste into natural fish habitats and altering crucial wild salmon migration patterns.

Canada has a once in a generation opportunity right now to strengthen the protection of our beloved oceans. The Oceans Act, a historic, but outdated piece legislation, has the opportunity to be amended and strengthened to meet the demands of our changing society.

The current Oceans Act was put into force in 1997 with the goal of creating a national oceans management strategy guided by the principles of sustainable development.

The goal of the act is to support the ocean’s ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as coastal communities and the economic resources they depend on within the ocean. The Oceans Act currently facilitates this through the use of Marine Protected Areas, the Exclusive Economic Zone, and other oceans management strategies.

However, an enhanced robust Oceans Act would offer lasting protection for ocean species and the habitats on which they depend.

The government of Canada has set clear marine targets for 2017 and 2020 and has announced a five-point plan to meet international commitments to conserve at least 10 percent of our oceans by 2020.

Now is the time to ride that momentum and push for even greater commitments towards marine protected areas and policies that will actually protect ocean ecosystems and marine biodiversity.

In June 2017, the government tabled Bill C-55, proposing changes to Canada’s Oceans Act. It is currently going through a second reading in the House of Commons.

The bill currently being put forward in the House of Commons would authorize the government to create interim protection areas, freeze the footprint of existing activities in those areas during the consultation and designation process, apply the precautionary principle, and strengthen enforcement provisions. Amendments have also been proposed to allow for the cancellation or suspension of oil and gas interests in MPA’s.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

To complement the proposed amendments to the Oceans Act, the Government of Canada is also proposing amendments to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. The proposed amendments would allow the Minister of Natural Resources Canada to:

  1. Prohibit oil and gas activities in marine areas where an Interim Protection MPA is established while the regulation for an Oceans Act MPA is being developed;
  2. Cancel a company’s oil and gas interest in areas where Oceans Act MPAs are designated by federal government regulation; and
  3. Compensate for the cancellation of a company’s oil and gas interest impacted by the designation of an Oceans Act MPA should no other option be agreed upon.

While the amendments proposed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are a step forward, they’re not enough. Bill C-55 needs a little bit more help in order to provide effective protection for Canada’s oceans. Setting the bar too low compromises the quality of marine protection and will not effectively serve either ecosystems or communities.

There is an urgent need to make essential amendments to Bill C-55 that include minimum protection standards in all MPAs, that allows for Indigenous governance or co-governance, and that speeds up protection of marine areas through MPA network planning and broad designations.

You can be a part of this historic movement and the amending of Canada’s Oceans Act. Several other amendments have been put forward by NGO’s and other environmental groups that you can support by telling your leaders that you want these amendments included in Bill C-55.

Most of the proposed amendments involve minimum protection standards for several damaging activities such as oil and gas exploration, bottom trawling, open net-pen aquaculture, and seabed mining.

Recommendations for an amended Oceans Act:

  • Minimum standards prohibiting oil, gas, and mineral exploration
    • There is currently no universal protection from oil and gas exploration in the Oceans Act. The lack of outright prohibitions leaves open the possibility of oil and gas exploitation in MPA’s.
  • Prohibiting open net-pen aquaculture
    • Open net-pen aquaculture is the catalyst for so much damage and destruction in our oceans caused by disease, parasite transfer, and other changes it facilitates to the ocean’s ecosystem. Currently, no MPA’s expressly allow or prohibit open net-pen aquaculture.
  • Prohibitions on bottom trawling
    • Bottom trawling is not explicitly prohibited within the majority of the Oceans Act and is permitted to occur within many MPA’s. Bottom trawling equipment, towed along the seafloor to catch fish and crustaceans, are particularly threatening to seabed habitats. This type of ban already exists in MPA’s internationally in Scotland, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Requiring no-take zones
    • A minimum of 75% of every Oceans Act MPA should be closed to all commercial and recreational fishing activities.
  • Recognizing indigenous protected areas and providing legal direction for co-Governance
    • Affirming the recognition of Indigenous rights and strengthening Indigenous involvement in marine protection is crucial to reconciling these relationships in Canada and strengthening the Oceans Act.

Canadians need and want these stronger regulations protecting our oceans. A World Wildlife Fund survey found that 98% of Canadians say that protecting oceans and their ecosystems is an important action to take. 80% of Canadians believed that MPA’s should not allow oil and gas activities and 87% believed that MPA’s should not allow bottom trawling.

You can have a direct say in what happens with Bill C-55 and the amendments made to the Oceans Act by reaching out to your member of parliament and making your voice heard.

You can use the link below to find your member of parliament if you don’t know who it is. I’ve also included a sample letter that you can adjust accordingly and send off to your MP to make sure they’re aware that you care about our oceans and you need them to fight for a stronger Oceans Act and proper amendments to Bill C-55.

You can figure out who your MP is HERE
If you’re interested in keeping up with the progress of Bill C-55, you can do so HERE
Feel free to send your own letter to your MP or use the template below. 
CLICK HERE to access a free template for writing your MP about Canada’s Oceans Act.

One voice can make a difference and right now our oceans need your voice more than ever.  

Simon Ager Photography


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1 Comment

  • Reply Rosie December 8, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    This is so sad. I went to a conference about MPAs a couple of weeks ago – didn’t really know much about them before at all. It’s baffling to me that you quote such high numbers of Canadians wanting to have much better protection for MPAs and then the proposed bill is weak. Money talks way too damn much, and the people in charge won’t realise until it’s too late.

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