The Great Bear Sea MPA Network

Cutting Through the Misinformation

There is a great deal of incorrect information about the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network. The trend of incorrectly representing the Network creates unnecessary opposition to a marine management approach based on solid science: the ecosystem-based approach. The ecosystem-based approach to marine management ensures the health and wealth of our coastal communities through creating sustainable thriving fisheries.

On BC’s coast, the decline of the herring and salmon fisheries shows that the maximum sustainable yield approach to fisheries, which focuses only on the species in question, is unsustainable. The continuation of the maximum sustainable yield approach risks turning BC coastal waters into a dead zone. One way to reverse this trend and rebuild coastal abundance is establishing the Great Bear Sea MPA Network.

The benefits of the Great Bear Sea MPA Network are virtually endless, from protecting coastal habitats to supporting healthy ecosytems resulting in an increase in fish size, abundance, and biomass.

The Great Bear Sea MPA Network DOES NOT Encompass the Entire Great Bear Sea

One common misunderstanding about the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network is that it encompasses the entire Great Bear Sea. In fact, the ‘Great Bear Sea’ is often conflated with  the ‘Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area.’ This conflation is problematic because it suggests that 100 percent of the Great Bear Sea will be an MPA. This mistake is often amplified by the inclusion of a map showing the entire Great Bear Sea as a single MPA. The map below clearly shows that the entire The Great Bear Sea is not being turned into one huge MPA. Instead, it shows that the Great Bear Sea runs from northern Vancouver Island to the the BC/Alaskan border, and that within the Sea, there will be a network of MPAs.

What are the Advantages of an MPA Network?

One important component of Coast Funds’ work is supporting Coastal Guardian programs. The Coastal Stewardship Network helps Guardian Watchmen and stewardship techs from Gitga’at, Haida, Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk), Kitasoo, Xai’xais, Metlakatla, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv nations share environmental intelligence and continue a long tradition of caring for coastal environments. Credit: Coast Funds

What is the plan for the Great Bear Sea MPA Network? The plan is to establish numerous MPAs in the Great Bear Sea to create an MPA Network. The Network Action Plan for the Great Bear Sea defines an MPA Network as “a collection of individual marine protected areas that operates cooperatively and synergistically, at various spatial scales, and with a range of protection levels, in order to fulfill ecological aims more effectively and comprehensively than individual sites could alone.”

One of the main advantages of this MPA Network is that it uses an ecosystem, instead of the maximum sustainable yield single species-based, approach. The single-species, one-size-fits-all approach has been the driving force of the mismanagement of our marine resources, which has resulted in putting over 30 species at risk, including salmon, herring, northern abalone, northern resident and transient whales, blue whales, basking sharks, sei whales, yelloweye rockfish, and ancient glass sponge reefs.

Despite what some commentators claim, the Great Bear Sea MPA Network will encompass 30% of the Great Bear Sea, not the entire Sea. Specifically, this 30% will consist of 18.5% of already existing MPAs and Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) and 11.5% of new MPAs. This essential information is overlooked or purposefully ignored. The result is the misconception that the entire Great Bear Sea will be closed to human activity when nothing can be further from the truth. While some argue that 30% is not enough, it will increase the total percentage of protected waters in BC, as currently, only 3% is off-limits to industrial activity and large-scale commercial fishing, which is well below the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. However, the Great Bear Sea MPA Network is a step in the right direction. Numerous studies have shown that the populations of many keystone species, such as salmon and herring, are dangerously low. When keystone species collapse, the entire Great Bear Sea moves closer to becoming a dead zone. The Great Bear Sea MPA Network can be an effective defence against the unsustainable status quo.

The Ecological Benefits of The Great Bear Sea MPA Network

A network of MPA's along the BC Coast.
Currently, Coastal First Nations, the Province of BC, and the Government of Canada are working together to implement the Network Action Plan. This plan will see approximately 30% of the Great Bear Sea, which extends from Campbell River on Vancouver Island to the Dixon Entrance at the border of BC and Alaska, turned into the Great Bear Sea MPA Network. 18.5% of this 30% will be made up of already existing MPAs and Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs), while 11.5% will consist of new MPAs. Image credit: MPA Network

Well-managed MPA networks protect ecosystems’ structure, function, integrity, and resilience in many ways. First, the Great Bear Sea MPA Network will provide refuge for harvested species. Second, the Great Bear Sea MPA Network will protect habitats essential to lifecycle stages, such as spawning, juvenile rearing, and feeding. Protecting habitats critical to the lifecycle of various species allows these species to thrive across their lifespans. The protection of spawning populations, biomass, and aggregations will enhance reproductive capacity, which will also ensure thriving populations. These thriving populations will not be strictly limited to the MPAs. Instead, enhancing local and regional fish populations will include the spillover of adults, juveniles, and larvae into adjacent fishing grounds, which is the cornerstone of creating sustainable fisheries. Spillover is why an MPA network can contribute to the long-term sustainability of marine resources on the BC coast.

Roger Harris has been a Nuxalk Guardian Watchman for about nine years. His role, he says, is to protect his lands and waters, to serve his community, and to set a good example for the Guardians coming up behind him. Image Credit: Emilee Gilpin on Coastal First Nations

The Ecological Benefits of The Great Bear Sea MPA Network

One of the most significant social and economic benefits of the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network is that it will ensure a stable, biodiverse resource base for non-consumptive and sustainable consumptive activities and livelihoods, including fishing, recreation, and tourism. While the single-species approach has been disastrous for owner-operators and the health of BC’s coastal marine ecosystem, the Network’s ecosystem-based management will help ensure long-term economic opportunities for sustainable use. It is essential to understand that the biomass and fish population increases, and the related spillover, will not benefit industrial fisheries. One of the foundational economic tenets of the Great Bear Sea MPA Network is that its economic benefits need to go to coastal communities. The Great Bear Sea MPA Network will keep corporate fisheries out, keeping the economic benefits of healthy, sustainable fisheries in local communities.

The Network will also have several other advantages, including providing researchers, educators, and policymakers with reference sites to serve as natural benchmarks for fish biomass, management assessment, and climate change impacts. Therefore, the Great Bear Sea MPA Network allows us to expand our knowledge and understanding of marine systems. One of the foundational factors associated with the success of MPAs and MPA networks is local management, which takes decision-making powers out of the hands of distant and disconnected federal bureaucrats.

The Great Bear Sea MPA Network will have immense ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural benefits. The Netwok will keep large fishing corporations and fleets out, which will allow owner-operators and coastal communities to thrive for generations to come.
The Great Bear Sea MPA Network will have immense ecological, socioeconomic, and cultural benefits. The Network will keep large fishing corporations and fleets out, which will allow owner-operators and coastal communities to thrive for generations to come. Photo credits: Lori H on Dreamstime (left) and David Webb on Dreamstime (right)

Conclusion

We are at a critical juncture. There is overwhelming evidence that the Great Bear Sea ecosystem suffers from poor management, resulting in numerous species being classified as threatened or endangered. However, there is still time to reverse the current trajectory. One way to defend our coast from corporate extractionists and the damage they are doing to the Great Bear Sea and coastal communities is to make sure the Great Bear Sea Marine Protected Area Network becomes a reality.

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