Sustaining Canadian marine biodiversity: Policy and statutory progress
A 2012 Expert Panel Report on marine biodiversity by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) concluded that Canada faced significant challenges in achieving sustainable fisheries, regulating aquaculture, and accounting for climate change. Relative to many countries, progress by Canada in fulfilling international obligations to sustain biodiversity was deemed poor. To track progress by Canada since 2012, the RSC struck a committee to track policy and statutory developments on matters pertaining to marine biodiversity and to identify policy challenges, and leading options for implementation that lie ahead. The report by the Policy Briefing Committee is presented here. It concluded that Canada has made moderate to good progress in some areas, such as prioritization of oceans stewardship and strengthening of the evidentiary use of science in decision-making. Key statutes were strengthened through amendments, including requirements to rebuild depleted fisheries (Fisheries Act) and new means of creating marine protected areas (Oceans Act) that allowed Canada to exceed its international obligation to protect 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Public release of mandate letters has strengthened ministerial accountability. However, little or no progress has been made in reducing regulatory conflict with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), decreasing ministerial discretion under the Fisheries Act, clarifying the role of science in sustainable fisheries policy, and accounting for climate change. Five future policy challenges are identified: (1) Ensure climate change impacts and projections are incorporated into ocean-related decision making and planning processes; (2) Resolve DFO’s regulatory conflict to conserve and exploit biodiversity; (3) Limit ministerial discretionary power in fisheries management decisions; (4) Clarify ambiguities in how the Precautionary Approach is applied in sustainable fisheries policy; and (5) Advance and implement marine spatial planning. Since 2012, there has been progress in recovering and sustaining the health of Canada’s oceans. Failure to further strengthen biodiversity conservation threatens the capacity of Canada’s oceans to provide ecosystem services that contribute to the resilience of marine life and the well-being of humankind. Unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean caused by climate change have made the achievement of meaningful progress all the more urgent.