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Canada’s Marine Conservation Target Initiative – Bringing It Home

By Poppy Keogh

Local Indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge and perspectives have long been integral to the health of our ecosystems. However, the need to include these perspectives into the decision-making process for conservation has only been recently recognized in Canada. Local perspectives come from generations of lived experience within these marine and coastal spaces. These insights can be invaluable when directing efforts of marine conservation that will work effectively to protect ecologically diverse areas while also catering to the needs of coastal communities who rely on these areas for their livelihoods.

This ‘In Focus’ piece will discuss the recent announcement of the Marine Conservation Targets and how early collaboration with coastal communities is a vital step in successfully reaching these targets, especially for the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


“Conserving Canada’s oceans is about more than reaching targets – it’s about working together to regenerate our marine ecosystems, so our children and grandchildren are able to experience the beauty, diversity, and abundance of our oceans. With every organization and with every innovative idea we support through the Oceans Management Contribution Program, we move a step closer to our common goal of a healthier ocean, now and for the generations to come.”

- The Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

The quote by Minister Murray sets a stage for a broad and inclusive conversation about marine conservation, signaling opportunities for all Canadians to be involved in the discussion about the oceans. Canada's 2025 Marine Conservation Targets include protecting 25% of Canada’s oceans by 2025. The Government of Canada aims to achieve these targets by supporting projects which address different current issues in the marine space, under three funding areas: outreach, monitoring and stewardship and capacity building. The targets include the effective management of established marine protected areas (MPAs) and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), new site establishment of MPAs and OECMs to reach that 25% by 2025, matching Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) with Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy to ensure that marine conservation efforts support sustainability and part of a long-term plan for a resilient blue economy.

With all of this in mind, work in establishing, maintaining and monitoring Canada’s Marine Conservation Targets needs to be done with the broad vision for the oceans and the specific objectives in mind. Several marine social and natural scientists have been working independently and collaboratively to examine conditions, criteria and mechanisms for achieving the goals. Some have also been involved in creating a plan and implementation strategy for these targets. In a recent workshop to discuss MSP for the Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves Bioregion, for instance, Evan J. Andrews, OFI Module I member joined others in the discussion about the work that DFO Newfoundland and Labrador is doing in the development and the implementation of the MSP plan for the region. DFO Newfoundland and Labrador has been using a survey to identify the ecological, social, and economic priorities for MSP. The survey aimed to gain a long term, integrated outlook for these bioregions. Many more conversations like this will need to take place in order for Canada to achieve Marine Conservation Targets.

Lessons from around the world can help enhance understanding about community contributions to marine conservation and stewardship. From the small island fishing communities in Thailand to the communities of Opitsaht, British Columbia, small-scale fishers are important leaders and stewards of marine systems, according to Dr. Anthony Charles (Saint Mary’s University). On Friday 28th, January 22, Dr. Charles delivered a presentation on FAO-supported research called, Small-Scale Fisher Leadership in Environmental Stewardship, during the Vulnerability to Viability Global Partnership webinar series. He discussed the links between community, conservation and livelihoods, showing how small-scale fisher communities play a role in the environmental stewardship of coastal environments and how this in turn benefits the communities’ livelihoods and builds a sustainable and reliable food source as well as benefitting conservation targets. These bottom-up community-based conservation methods are what’s needed to create reliable and sustainable livelihood and healthy habitats and communities.

“This stewardship activity is not something new in small-scale fisheries, we’re not discovering it. We are trying to document it and highlight and support the stewardship of small-scale fishers… What we are interested in doing is hearing the voices of those small-scale fishers.”

- Dr. Anthony Charles, V2V webinar, January 22, 2022

It is vital to develop marine conservation that reflects the vision and the voices of the people who inhabit and rely on the coastline. With over 17,500 km of coastline, the longest of all the territories and provinces in Canada, marine conservation efforts in the Newfoundland-Labrador Shelves Bioregion will significantly contribute to Canada’s Marine Conservation Targets. OFI Module I researchers will be working to create more engagement and outreach practices in the early stages of planning for marine spaces. This work aligns with the upcoming 4th World Small Scale Fisheries Congress, North America, in St. John’s, June 20-22, 2022, which has Getting Governance Right, as one of the themes. Among other things, the research will aim to identify what may be relevant when discussing the role that Indigenous and non-indigenous stakeholders, rights-holders, researchers and decision-makers play in the early stages of implementing the marine conservation targets in Newfoundland and Labrador. Early engagement is also important when considering the congress theme, Getting the Future Right, as it means understanding different interests, values, and visions for marine conversation. This approach is supported in Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee’s work on transdisciplinary research in the sustainability of fisheries and oceans as well as concepts in the governance of marine protected areas, such as Step Zero.

Getting Small Right, where small refers to small-scale fisheries, is another theme for the North American regional congress. In November of 2021, early career researchers and Geography graduate students Lillian Saul (MUN), Nova Almine (MUN), and Anita Rayegani (University of Hamberg) led a small-scale fisheries research symposium hosted by the Too Big To Ignore: Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries Research. This event helped raise important questions for small-scale fisheries, what they mean to people and how to get them right, with the overarching question of “What does getting small right mean to you?”. One participant answered with “communities are built around fishing families – other businesses can flourish”, another remarked that getting small right means “environment-friendly”. Many of the answers pointed to the recognized connection between benefits to the fishing communities and the environment in which they exist.

Getting SMALL Right links in well with the idea of marine conservation stewardship and how it can be implemented and brought closer to the people and communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. Putting questions to the public regarding ocean conservation can help to gauge the awareness and interest of indigenous and non-indigenous ocean users. Engagement from a variety of ocean users in a region like Newfoundland and Labrador, with many small communities relying on the ocean for a living, can lead to a more effective marine conservation strategy that meets its targets as well as maintaining and upholding the needs of the coastal community members. This kind of early engagement can also help to foster the role of conservation stewardship in these communities as issues and solutions are discussed among the people who depend directly on a healthy ocean.


Poppy is a research assistant for the Ocean Frontier Institute Module I. She recently completed her MSc in Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her research focused on the benthic ecology of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, with emphasis on deep-sea corals and sponges, and how the results from her thesis can contribute to the establishment of a Marine Protected Area in the North Atlantic. Poppy is particularly interested in the decision-making processes behind the establishment of MPAs and their long-term viability. She is passionate about all things science communication.

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