An MPA Network for the Central Coast: The Process So Far

A Grizzly Bear stands on the coastline in BC's Central Coast.Profile

The planning process to establish a Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network in Heiltsuk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv Nations’ territories has been ongoing for 17 years, since 2006.

There have been dozens of Nation Stewardship and Marine Use Committee Meetings, and substantial input from each Nation’s leadership, key community knowledge holders, elders, science and marine managers.

The process has also included significant engagement with community members, and a variety of stakeholders that include fishers. We have conducted extensive community research to identify important ecological areas, cultural areas, and species distributions. This information formed the basis of our spatial plans at the community level.

We are now in an exciting phase of the process. We expect that in February 2023, 17 First Nations, including Central Coast Nations, and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, will endorse a “blueprint” to guide establishment of a network of MPAs stretching from Campbell River to Alaska. Called the MPA Network Action Plan, this document includes a process for how the network will be established by 2025, in partnership with all First Nations governments, and federal and provincial governments.

A Guardian boat in Kitasoo Xai'xais territory.
Photo: Doug Neasloss

Here’s how we got here.

Stay tuned for further information about what comes next, as we will be sharing stories about the MPA network as it develops.

2006 – First Nation communities established a rigorous, science-based approach to creating Marine Plans, including a protected area plan, for their traditional territories.

2012 – Sixteen First Nations, including the four Central Coast Nations, and the Government of Canada agreed to collaborate on marine planning and fisheries-related issues.

2014 – The government of Canada and the province of British Columbia completed the Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy, which outlines goals and principles for a network of Marine Protected Areas on the Pacific Coast.

2014 – 2017 – Further planning and data gathering occurred. Targets for conservation priorities were established through a forum of Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists in consultation with stakeholders and our Nations. Cultural conservation priority areas for our territories, based on our Indigenous knowledge and science, were brought forward by our Nations to help guide the prioritization of important marine areas for protection.

2017 – The Government of Canada signed the Reconciliation Framework Agreement for Bioregional Oceans Management and Protection (ORFA) with Coastal First Nations, which set up a collaborative governance arrangement for Marine Protected Area planning, plus shipping and transportation.

2019 – The Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement was signed in 2019. This allows a shared, coordinated approach to the management of fisheries between Coastal First Nations and Canada. This is an important part of our Nations’ overarching approach to healthy waters and communities. It ensures our values, knowledge and science are included in collaborative decision making about the resources of our territories. The FRRA provides funding, training and licensing support to create community-based fisheries for our Nations that will help support our economic stability. Meanwhile, the MPA Network will enable a healthy marine environment that our fisheries and people depend on.

2017- 2020 – We developed a spatial plan for the MPA Network, which involves defining the specific zones or areas marked for protection. We received feedback from stakeholders and, based on this and further research, made a number of changes to the suggested zones to reduce the potential cost impacts from displacement of fisheries by the MPA Network by 40%. We are confident that, over time, the network will help maintain healthy ecosystems and repopulate fisheries for our long term benefit.

2020 – Now – In the last two years we refined the draft MPA Network action plan with proposed areas for protection that our partnership of 17 First Nations, the government of Canada, and the province of British Columbia will bring to our communities, stakeholders, and the public for their review and feedback between August 2022 and November 2022.

Sea lions on the rocky shoreline.

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