July 24, 2017
Re: Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area Regulations, Canada Gazette Part I, Vol. 151, No. 35 – notice published on June 24th, 2017.
Please accept this letter as a formal submission from FFAW-Unifor on the proposed Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area regulations, published in The Canada Gazette 1 on June 24, 2017.
FFAW-Unifor supports the intent to protect Canada’s oceans and coastal waters. The current approach, however, is critically lacking and FFAW-Unifor cautions that the language pertaining to industrial developments in the area will result in limited ecological benefits to the Laurentian Channel and its intended protections of habitat and biodiversity.
FFAW-Unifor disagrees with and takes great exception to the comment in the Regulator Impact Analysis Statement which states that “the fisheries union is not in disagreement” with the fishery prohibitions intended to come in place. FFAW-Unifor expressed significant concerns on the process towards the establishment of this MPA back in 2014. The news release referenced is but one clear indication that FFAW-Unifor took public exception to the fact that fishery prohibitions are being put in place, while natural resource exploration and development is allowed. FFAW-Unifor has been on record and consistent in this message. The fishing industry continues to be the economic driver of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and stewardship of the valuable resources within our oceans remains paramount to our membership. Allowing oil and gas activities, while prohibiting low impact fishing activity, is not only counterproductive but is detrimental to the goals of protecting biodiversity and the important species identified in the conservation goals of the Laurentian Channel MPA.
Protection of biodiversity has long been touted as a goal of the Laurentian Channel MPA. The area has been identified as a key area for various species, such as porbeagle sharks, leatherback turtles, and black dogfish. In fact, our members have collaborated with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans since the identification of the Laurentian Channel as an Area of Interest, ensuring that their Local Ecological Knowledge and experiences have helped inform how to best utilize the area to achieve its conservation goals and protect important species and habitats.
As written, the regulations are not likely to provide protection for the conservation focus and for other important species. Atlantic Cod, for example, is a species of great concern to our membership in NAFO division 3Ps, and one that the current regulations, namely the open window for seismic testing, puts at risk as this window puts cod at risk during important vulnerable life stages. This is not taken into account or regarded in the discussion of permitting seismic testing in the area west of the French Zone in 3Ps and in 3Pn will be restricted to the temporal window between December 1st and July 31st – a window where cod are found in spawning and pre-spawning aggregations. This is simply inexcusable in a conservation sense.
Subsequently, the seismic activity will also have an impact on commercial fishing activities, which take place with varying species focus throughout the calendar year.
The unknown long-term effects of seismic and other oil and gas activities continue to concern fish harvesters. There have been reports from harvesters that fish behaviour has been affected following seismic blasts and shellfish have disappeared from areas following seismic work. There have also been reports from vessel captains that groundfish catches have been impacted when seismic activities have been ongoing. While the research has not determined any direct mortality of fish or shellfish attributable to seismic activity there may be behavioural changes that could affect migrations or reproductive and spawning activities as well as movement of the exploitable biomass in an area. This, in turn, can impact vulnerable fish populations. There is a grave need for further research on impacts of seismic activity on important species such as Atlantic cod to address these data gaps. It would be logical in this instance to apply the precautionary approach going forward.
The fish harvesting sector therefore recommends that no seismic activity take place that would in any way impact commercial fisheries and fisheries science.
FFAW-Unifor also has grave concerns for the impact of invasive oil and gas exploration and drilling on both fish species and vulnerable habitats such as corals and sponges. These areas provide important habitat for biodiversity to thrive and by permitting destructive oil and gas activities to take place on the ocean floor not only puts these species at risk but flies in the face of conservation and stewardship of the ocean.
It must be noted that there are no exceptions for oil and gas activities for the St. Anns Bank MPA, announced on June 8th, 2017. However, there are exceptions for commercial and recreational fishing activities “by means of pot, trap, rod and reel, harpoon, bottom longline, handline, gill net or by diving.” St. Anns Bank MPA and Laurentian Channel MPA are divided by the Laurentian Channel. There must be consistency in application across neighbouring MPAs; the current approach presents unfavourable circumstances for the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. Effectively, harvesters on the south coast of Newfoundland are presented with two potential negatives in the fishing prohibitions and allowance of seismic activity that has been proven to have negative impacts on catch rates and fish behaviour.
Stewardship of the ocean and the valuable species upon which our members and their communities rely are the cornerstones of responsible oceans management. Our members work hard to ensure their practices are sustainable, supporting the protection of biodiversity and habitats, and subsequently allowing the oceans to support our coastal communities for future generations. This work can be, however, all for nought if protection and conservation are put at risk by allowing invasive and potentially harmful industrial activity.
FFAW-Unifor strongly urges the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to apply the same Regulations as applied to similar Conservation Objectives in neighbouring Marine Protected Areas. Furthermore, conceding to oil and gas activities within the protected area, but not allowing fishing activities, is unacceptable to FFAW-Unifor members.
Keith Sullivan, President FFAW-Unifor