The Future of Our Coast: British Columbians Rally Around Marine Protected Areas

British Columbians understand that thriving coastal communities depend on small-scale fisheries for sustaining local livelihoods, ensuring food security, maintaining ties to the sea, preserving cultural identity, and bolstering coastal economies. They also understand that industrial-scale commercial fisheries stand in the way of a prosperous coast. Photo credit: Chelsey Ellis

A recent survey found that an overwhelming 93% of British Columbians view marine conservation as a key pillar for the development and sustainability of the province’s coastal economy.

Many respondents also shared the same concerns, chief of which are declining fish stocks (92% concerned), open-net fish farms (90%) and bottom trawling (90%). Compared to these, respondents were not as concerned about excessive government restrictions on fishing (65%). This shows that there is a recognition among BC residents that healthy fish stocks equals a healthy economy.

A chinook salmon leaping from the water in a river.
Industrial overfishing does not only threaten particular fish stocks. It can have a chain effect that disturbs the entire ecosystem. For instance, southern resident killer whales are considered endangered in part due to the declining numbers of Chinook salmon, which make up almost 98% of killer whale diets in the summers. Photo credit: Karel Bock on Dreamstime.

So how do we get healthier fish stocks? Who do we trust to implement the right solutions? The survey revealed that respondents lack trust in the fishing industry to address marine issues. Only a minority had any confidence in the fishing industry (39%), the salmon farming industry (32%), and fishing companies like Canfisco (25%) in this regard. Instead, respondents would rather listen to the experts who have been advocating for marine protected areas (MPAs): scientists (78%), environmental organizations (67%), Fisheries & Oceans Canada (61%), local First Nations communities (54%), and the BC provincial government (54%).

In line with that, nearly 80% of respondents voiced their support for the creation of an extensive network of MPAs on British Columbia’s coast.

A pie chart taken from a survey on marine conservation showing that a majority of BC respondents support the creation of an MPA network.
The MPA network in BC’s Northern Shelf Bioregion, also known as the Great Bear Sea MPA Network, will cover about 30% of the Great Bear Sea. More than half of this network will consist of already-established MPAs. Image credit: Research Co

It certainly looks like the minds of BC residents are made up: the marine economy is a cornerstone of BC’s prosperity and to protect it, MPA networks – led by scientists, the government, and coastal communities – are the way to go. Without MPAs, BC’s coast risks being depleted by fishing companies, and local communities will have to contend with the fallout for generations to come. BC residents are skeptical of corporations’ intentions to act in the best interests of local communities and economies. 

Representatives from 15 First Nations posing with Canadian government representatives at an announcement for the Great Bear Sea MPA network.
Leaders from 15 First Nations and the Governments of Canada and British Columbia have endorsed the plan for the Great Bear Sea MPA Network. Photo credit: Coastal First Nations on Facebook

The good news is that this is not a partisan issue. Support for MPAs is strong across all federal and provincial parties. Federally, 78% of Conservatives, 87% of Liberals, 88% of NDP, and 88% of Greens support MPAs. This means that there is a clear path forward towards implementing an MPA network in our waters.

However, corporations that stand to gain the most from a lack of protections in our waters are working hard to combat these efforts, driven by a goal to continue increasing their profits. There is misinformation about MPAs being an obstacle to economic development. In reality, one of the main goals of the Great Bear Sea MPA network is to preserve and enrich the marine economy and to do so by enlisting and engaging local communities for co-governance. 

A Canfisco fishing boat in BC's waters
Through ownership of quota and fishing licences, Canfisco is estimated to control around 80% of the supply of salmon and herring taken from BC waters. Photo credit: Canfisco Group

Strong Coast is encouraged by the results of this survey, which indicate that these misinformation campaigns have been unable to break through to the folks who actually live and work on the coast, and who experience the realities of industrial fishery greed on a daily basis. It is time for us to rally together and ensure that the Great Bear Sea MPA Network becomes a reality so that coastal resources remain in the hands of those who live and work on the coast

Learn more about the study by reading the Research Co news release.