National Marine Conservation Area Reserve Forum

On January 17, 2018, James Gordon and Lisa Joe of Parks Canada came to the Pender Islands to present an update on efforts to establish a National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in the Southern Strait of Georgia.

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NMCARs are marine areas managed to protect marine ecosystems while ensuring the ecologically sustainable use of marine resources. They include the seabed and water, and may also include wetlands, estuaries, islets and coastal areas. They have been mandated by the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act.  Although they are not parks, Parks Canada has been charged with establishing a system of NMCARs in Canada.


Although the purpose of NMCARs is to conserve biodiversity and safeguard culturally important features, there is a wide range of activities that are allowed, including:

  • Traditional harvesting
  • Commercial fishing
  • Recreational fishing
  • Shipping
  • Marine transport
  • Recreation
  • Tourism

However, it is not “business as usual,” since activities within NMCARs are managed based on conservation objectives and ecologically sustainable use.  Activities not allowed are:

  • Oil and gas exploration or development
  • Mining
  • Ocean dumping


NMCAR management is based on two principles:

  1. The principle of ecosystem management
  2. The precautionary principle: if there is good reason to believe that an activity will be harmful, even if there is not 100% proof, it can be restricted or banned.  This gives an ecosystem protection since it puts the onus onto proving safety instead of proving harm.


James discussed some of the significant limitations to NMCARs.  For example, management regulations cannot interfere with international marine laws, and Parks Canada has no authority over shipping lanes.  This is of enormous significance since, according to James, approximately 30% of Canada’s GNP is represented in the shipping that takes place in the Salish Sea.  In addition, ports and marinas will not be included in the NMCAR due to the prohibitive cost.  Fish farms are also outside of the mandate of Parks Canada since they are managed by the Department of Oceans and Fisheries.  James did state, however, that Parks Canada will be able to collaborate among different departments and interests groups to develop guidelines and best practice agreements; for example, with the Port of Vancouver regarding anchoring and shipping noise.  Under the Act, Parks Canada, DFO, and Transport Canada are mandated to reach consensus on usage issues within NMCARs.

The process for establishing a NMCAR is:

  • Identifying representative areas
  • Finalizing boundaries of a proposed site
  • Feasibility assessment: information and feedback is gathered and sent to a steering committee that makes a recommendation to the Minister/Cabinet.
  • Negotiating an agreement
  • Development of Interim Management Plan
  • Formal establishment through Parliament
  • Development of a Formal Management Plan

This process is a long and complicated one.  It is presently only at the feasibility stage, which requires extensive collaboration and consultation with all levels of government, special interest groups, and other stakeholders.  Lisa stated that the proposed NMCAR is located within the traditional territories of 19 different First Nations, which fall into three main groups: Hul’qumi’num, Lekwungen (Songhees), and Sencoten speaking peoples.  Parks Canada is committed to consultation with all First Nations who may be impacted, through workshops and meetings with staff, Chiefs and councils.   Also, First Nations groups have met among themselves to discuss issues such as boundaries, impact of the Douglas Treaty, habitat degradation, and the protection and celebration of indigenous cultures.

There were many questions and comments, especially regarding diminished faith in government will, and frustration at the extremely long time this process is taking.  Lobbying for a marine conservation area in the Salish Sea started decades ago (Jacques Cousteau endorsed the idea in 1972).  James reported that the process was stalled in 2012, and when it began again, one message was clear: there had not been enough collaboration and consultation, and many relationships have had to be rebuilt as people and positions have changed over the years.  However, he stated that he believes marine protection--partly because of Canada’s Ocean Protection Plan--has become a priority, and there is a strong mandate from Parks Canada as the Southern Strait of Georgia has been identified as a very important potential NMCAR.

More photos from the event