Oceans Protection Plan 2023

February 22nd, 2023 marked the beginning of the 11th Pacific Dialogue Forum since the Ocean Protection Plan (OPP) was first announced in 2016. The Honourable Minister of Transportation, Omar Algabrah, welcomed participants in Vancouver and virtually via a pre-taped video in the opening session. He confirmed that the OPP has been extended for another nine years with an additional $2 billion in funding. The 39 existing national initiatives from OPP 1 would be augmented with 15 new ones under OPP 2; the Salish Sea Strategy is an example of the latter.

Four senior representatives from Transport Canada (TC), the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Environment & Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) then spoke to what they thought OPP 1 had accomplished and what their hopes were for OPP 2. In general all believed that OPP 1 had made marine shipping in Canada safer, that protection for coastal ecosystems had been strengthened and that there was improved collaboration between the federal partners and Indigenous communities. The underlying theme for OPP 2 was to improve communication and collaboration not only between initiatives with indigenous communities but also linking to other program areas such as Protected Area Network Planning.

Of interest to the SCCA, was ECCC’s agenda to identify sensitive marine ecosystems and wildlife with marine birds being the key species to be monitored with the collaboration of First Nations on B.C.’s south coast. Such data would then be provided to spill response partners and assist in the development of long-term recovery efforts. DFO was looking ahead to the protection and restoration of vulnerable marine ecosystems and wildlife including killer whales. DFO would also be leading initiatives examining noise, marine mammals and the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Fund. Key linkages and partnerships included implementing the required TMX marine environmental conditions, marine spatial planning and the Salish Sea Strategy.

The next Panel presentation provided a very good update on the role of marine pilots. Under OPP 1, the 1972 Pilotage Act under the Canadian Transportation Act was amended in 2019 so that Transport Canada became the regulator of the Pilotage Act and Regulations. There are four Pilotage Authorities in Canada and in BC, this Authority is coast-wide. All ships greater than 350 GT transiting through our coastal waters extending to two nautical miles from every major point of land are legally obliged to be piloted by TC licensed pilots – all of whom are extremely knowledgeable of our intricate coastline and marine regulations. In my opinion, this specific action greatly reduces the risk of large vessel incidents occurring during transit through BC waters. The Pilotage Authority has also been actively involved in preparing for the TMX marine shipping project. Although not specified, it is expected that there will be a corresponding increase in funding to hire additional pilots, support services and needed equipment (launches and/or helicopters) with the expected near future increase in marine shipping as large projects shipping gas and bitumen come on line in both northern and southern waters.

The First Nations Fisheries Council of BC spoke about “A Commitment to Action and Results” agreement that was recently signed between four federal agencies and First Nation (FN) government bodies situated mostly in southern BC waters to commit to a collaborative processes focused on inclusion of Indigenous worldviews, interests, and priorities relating to fisheries and marine ecosystem values. This FN led development has been working on implementing the Cumulative Effects of Marine Shipping and specifically spatial planning initiative. This seems to be similar to the work done with northern FNs including the Haida and with the Port of Prince Rupert Authority but adapted to the specifics of the southern indigenous communities. Increasing communications with the Province and with industry are immediate goals for OPP 2.

Enhanced Maritime Situational Awareness (EMSA) is one of the original initiatives launched during OPP 1. Kelly Larkin, Regional TC Program Manager, noted that there had been interest in developing a real-time web-based GIS platform especially for FN communities prior to 2016. This communication platform is now available across all three of Canada’s coasts and allows trained community members to track and communicate what is occurring in their marine waters. Currently there are 760 users throughout Canada of which 49% FN. The common operating picture can for example, include Search & Rescue, spill response, and anchorages decisions in partnership with CCG and TC. EMSA can monitor erratic vessel behaviour and if warranted, an area of concern can be geo-fenced, and emails/texts be sent to appropriate responders. Such tracking, it is hoped, will prevent an “occurrence” from becoming an “incident”. Delegates from both Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committee (Inuvialuit Settlement Region) and Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke (St. Lawrence Seaway) gave examples of how EMSA was being applied in their marine waters.

Under OPP 1 there was year-to-year pilot project budgeting; with OPP 2 a steady-state budget now allows for ongoing co-governance between the partners. It is expected that eventually EMSA will also expand into trans-boundary waters, at least for BC’s coastline. In response on how to track non-equipped AIS Russ Jones, Haida Nation, explained that on the north coast stationary cameras located on land which could send observations in real-time to the EMSA platform are being deployed in a pilot project.

On the morning of the following day, there was the virtual opportunity to learn about the national strategy to address Canada’s Wrecked, Abandoned and Hazardous Vessels co-presented by a TC and CCG panel. This OPP 1 initiative has the goal of addressing, removing, and preventing hazardous vessels that threaten local communities and marine environments. It has progressed well with the passage of the Wrecked, Abandoned and Hazards Vessel Act – Bill C-64, the establishment of a registry for vessels of concern (VoC) and a registry of vessel owners and a toll-free line to report vessels of concern (1-800-889-8852). The national registry, accessible online, has 1,700 vessels reported of which 69% are in the western region extending all the way to Manitoba. Over 300 VoC were reported in this region in 2022, interestingly there are only four officers to investigate these reports in this area. The CCG deals with immediate threats such as Search & Rescue and pollution that are received through the toll-free line; and TC deals with vessels abandoned for longer than two years (with some exceptions); both agencies can act only under specific authorities. As much as possible, attempts are made to contact owners. It should be noted that now under Bill C-64 it is illegal for owners to abandon vessels. Examples were provided of vessels that had been abandoned and recovered: one on the east coast in the Bay of Fundy and the other, closer to home was the “MV Mini Fusion” aka “MV Ocean Lady” located in Waddington Channel in Desolation Channel. A citizen mariner had alerted the CCG that this infamous the freighter had started to list (2 degrees). After pumping 35 thousand litres of fuel out of her tanks, the vessel was successfully lifted out of the water with a submersible barge and towed to Campbell River for removal.

For OPP 2, TC/CCG wants to know how best to proceed in supporting and educating owners of their responsibilities and how best to support preventative activities. There is hope that the additional funding can be used to build the industrial capacity among interested indigenous communities to conduct some of this work in their own territories including deconstruction of WAH vessels. Audience members noted that there was room for improvement in the registries, such as adding a GIS layer. It was also noted that technology exists, most commonly called Barnacle, which allows for remote onsite monitoring of the VoC. It would be helpful if this technology was made available to interested FN. In response, the federal representatives did note that there were privacy issues to consider with what was public on the registries and that there were also concerns that future court cases not be compromised. The issue of lack of recovery facilities, particularly for fiberglass, was also raised. As an answer, it was noted that as this was a national strategy, that there needed to be a market for the end product and that there had to be a potential for a profit.

The final virtual presentation was on the status of TC’s Cumulative Effects on Marine Shipping (CEMS) initiative. This national Framework was published in the spring of last year and proposes to “establish shared approaches to better understand the cumulative effects of regional marine shipping activities on the environment and people surrounding it”. This framework based on adaptive management was based on five steps: scoping (including valued components), assessment, decision-making, action, and evaluation and reaction. The Northern Shelf Bioregion Framework, representing one of seven national regions, has proceeded further in relation to B.C.’s south coast region. An example of the steps taken in evaluating the impacts of shipping was shown; it depicted the action (vessels in transit and docked), the stressors (e.g. noise, pollution, vessel strikes, the effects (evaluated through CEMS assessment work) and the valued components (marine mammals and their prey, indigenous marine uses). Underpinning all of these activities was collaboration equalling nation to nation co-development built on open dialogue and trust which embraced flexible and holistic approaches. On the south coast of BC there are bilateral and collaborative discussions with some FN wishing to develop sub-regional assessments and others, such as Sechelt and Squamish, choosing at this time to be involved in a regional assessment. To date the regional work plan has completed the scoping and is in the pre-assessment stage. As stated earlier in this report the First Nations Fisheries Council of BC is also involved in this initiative.

An overview of CEMS and what specifically was being monitored and evaluated in the Arctic Region of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut was used as an illustration of a sub-regional assessment.
Following the presentation, a question was raised about CEMS being used on a specific development project such as one that might be voluntarily submitted to TC for a TERMPOL (Technical Review Process of Marine Terminal Systems and Transhipment Sites). In answer, it was noted that it could be utilized on the north coast of BC because of the advanced state of that regional assessment. However, in response to a question where industry wanted to use a “Inventory of Stressors, Effects and Connections” produced by FN in a sub-regional assessment, it was answered that it would be best to speak to the affected FN first and that TC offered to assist in such a discussion.

The description of these three initiatives that were available virtually, best illustrate what OPP 1 was able to accomplish. In additional panel presentations, it is obvious that the federal government really wants to emphasize communication and co-operation particularly with Indigenous people during OPP 2. If other community members wish to become involved in any of these 50+ initiatives they will have to approach the responsible federal agency rather than waiting to be invited. For example, if the SCCA and the Howe Sound Biosphere Region Initiative Society wanted to establish a sub-regional Cumulative Effects of Maritime Shipping assessment in Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound Biosphere Reserve, they should, after communicating with Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nation, consider approaching Transport Canada.

In summation, once again the information presented was wide-ranging and a little overwhelming which, as one participant noted, distracted somewhat from the Forum’s goal of making connections with other participants. However, it is encouraging that cross-cultural values are being acknowledged and that although there is still much work to be done, in collecting data, analysis, managing risk, creating policies and regulations, in the end, as Mark Biagi (Marine Program Manager · Snuneymuxw First Nation) noted: “We all want to protect the environment”.

It is still very much uncertain if the development of appropriate spill response plans to protect marine ecosystems on the south coast can be completed before TMX is completed.

-Angela Kroning,



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