Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act

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A Marine Conservation Area (MCA) is an ocean area set aside by the federal government for “protecting and conserving representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world.” Originally they were created under the Canada National Parks Act, but recently Parliament created a new Act dealing only with NMCAs. Despite the new legislation, the programme is still administered by Parks Canada.

The National MCA Program is to protect and conserve areas representative of Canada’s ocean environments, as well as to encourage public appreciation of this marine heritage. In the long-term, Parks Canada hopes to create MCAs in every region of Canada.

Establishing a Marine Conservation Area

The federal government may designate an area of ocean (including seashore or islands) that it owns as an MCA. If a province owns or controls the land or seabed in a proposed MCA, it may choose to transfer its ownership or control to the federal government to allow creation of a MCA. The creation of a MCA also has to be consistent with any land claims agreements by First Nations, and in cases where there is an aboriginal claim over the area in question the Minister may designate a “reserve” instead of an NMCA. Reserves receive the same protection as MCAs.

Before an area proposed as a MCA or a reserve can be formally protected the Act requires that:

  • Parliament be given an opportunity to examine reports related to the MCA or reserve;
  • If Committees of the House of Commons and the Senate reject the proposal, the proposed MCA or reserve will need to be voted on by the whole of Parliament.
  • Otherwise the federal Cabinet can designate the MCA or reserve.

Each MCA must include at least 2 zones (although it can include more). The two required zones are:

  • A zone that fully protects special features or sensitive elements of the ecosystem; and
  • A zone that “fosters and encourages ecologically sustainable use” of any marine resources in the zone.

The intention is to provide a buffer between the protected zone and the unregulated zone, by ensuring that the use of resources near the protected zone are sustainable.

Managing a Marine Conservation Area

Once established, there are a number of restrictions that apply to a Marine Conservation Area or a reserve:

  • The government cannot grant a private interest over public lands in a marine conservation area; (s. 12)
  • No person can use or occupy public lands in the MCA; (s. 12)
  • No person can explore for or exploit mineral resources in the MCA; (s. 13)
  • No person can dispose of any substance except under a permit (s. 14). If a substance capable of degrading the environment or harming organisms in the MCA does escape into the MCA, the person who was responsible must take measures to minimize or prevent the harm, and the minister may order him or her to take such action. (s. 29)
  • The government can only grant permits or licences to use resources in the MCA to the extent authorized by regulations passed by Cabinet. (s. 15) An exception is made for fishing licences, unless Cabinet has passed regulations preventing fishing in the MCA.

At least once every five years the Minister must prepare a management plan for an MCA. This plan must:

  • Be prepared with the advice of an advisory committee appointed by the Minister;
  • Be developed in consultation with other levels of government (including First Nations) and “other persons and bodies that the Minister considers appropriate”.
  • Be based on the “primary considerations” of “principles of ecosystem management and the precautionary principle.
  • Be tabled in both houses of Parliament.

In addition, the federal Cabinet can pass regulations setting out what can and cannot occur in an MCA.

Relationship to Other Acts

The Marine Conservation Areas bear a striking resemblance to two other types of marine protection available to the federal government. Marine Protected Areas are created by Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the Oceans Act, while Marine Wildlife Areas are created by the Canadian Wildlife Service under the Canada Wildlife Act.

Each of these tools may be useful in protecting the marine environment.

Relevant Guide Pages:

For more information about the National Marine Conservation Act: