Governments and coastal First Nations in B.C. endorse marine protection action plan

Fifteen coastal First Nations, along with the federal and British Columbia governments, have officially endorsed the blueprint for a vast network of marine protected areas along the Pacific Ocean.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, says the deal will help protect mammals, fish and the underwater eco-system.

“Once this MPA (marine protection plan) is fully designated under the Oceans Act, protections put in place will extend beyond fishing and forbids activities like oil and gas drilling, deep sea mining and other activities subject to strict MPA protection standards.”

A marine protected area is “legally protected” by the federal government in an effort to conserve the animals and eco-system. The feds say the MPA restricts the number of commercial activities in the protected area and “may allow some current and future activities depending on their impacts to the ecological features being protected.”

The MPA covers 133,019 square kilometres (slightly larger than New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island combined) and is located “on average” 150 km off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The government says the area is approximately 95 km at its closest from Vancouver Island, and just over 80 km southwest of Haida Gwaii in the southern portion.

The coastal First Nations involved are: Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Haisla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Metlakatla, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk, Wuikinuxv, Mamalilikulla, Kwiakah, Tlowitsis, and Wei Wai Kum First Nations, and the Council of the Haida Nation.

The federal government says it will plan for the creation of new protected areas in the Northern Shelf Bioregion, which extends from the top of Vancouver Island to the Canada-Alaska border.

Jason Aslop, president of the Haida Nation Council Gaagwiis, says the protection of this area means sustainability for future generations.

“For our people protecting this area is about keeping our way of life,” he says. “As Ocean people, in being able to sustain ourselves in our communities with the bounty of the sea and all the food that’s provided for us from the ocean.”

The government says this is the first marine protected area network in Canada, and will be co-governed by Indigenous, federal and provincial governments.

The endorsement was announced during the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Vancouver.

The Marine Protected Area Network Action Plan will support efforts to conserve 25 per cent of Canada’s oceans by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030.

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