Transcript: Standing Committee on Fisheries & Oceans (Natalie Ban)

This is an extract from Dr. Natalie Ban’s presentation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. The full text can be found at, and the full audio can be found at

Audio log of Dr. Ban’s presentation:

Standing Committee on Fisheries & Oceans

#065 | 1st Session | 42nd Parliament

Dr. Natalie Ban (Assistant Professor, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria, As an Individual):

Good morning. It’s an honour to have been invited to present to you today.

I’ve been working on the science of marine conservation for the past 14 years with a focus on the design of marine protected areas, or MPAs. Most of my work has been in British Columbia, but I also spent four years in Australia and have been involved in other countries.

I would like to make five key points today. I will follow up with a written submission that will include the peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting my points.

My first point is that there is documented scientific support for the biodiversity benefits of strongly protected MPAs. A study in 2014 showed that the conservation benefits of MPAs worldwide increase exponentially with the accumulation of five key attributes: that they’re no-take; well enforced; old; large; and protect whole ecosystems that are isolated by deep water or sand.

Most of these global studies, including that one, include many tropical MPAs. Often the question is whether these same concepts apply in our temperate or Arctic waters, and the answer is yes. A study in 2009, focused only on temperate marine ecosystems, also found higher density, biomass, and species richness in fully protected MPAs compared with adjacent exploited areas. Thus, science has illustrated the effectiveness of fully protected MPAs for biodiversity conservation, which is their primary purpose. There are many other tools to assist with fisheries management, although MPAs might be able to help.

My second point is that some of the recent work, including my own, shows that MPAs that permit varying levels of extraction, fishing and other activities, are less effective at biodiversity conservation than fully protected areas. More specifically, in a study that I led, we considered the added benefit of MPAs at increasing biomass of fish. A no-take area such as IUCN categories I and II, for those of you familiar with that, are as effective as they can be, so let’s assume compliance. We’ll call those, for the sake of argument here, 100% effective.

We then were examining the benefits of MPAs over and above conventional fisheries management, so considered unprotected areas as having zero additional benefit, giving us a range between zero and 100. We found that MPAs that allowed some extraction, so IUCN category IV limited extraction, were about 65% effective compared with 100% for the no-take areas. Areas that allowed quite a bit of extraction, so IUCN category VI, were on average about 25% effective. In other words, MPAs that allow extraction are less effective, not only because of the actual fish or other things being taken out through extraction but because everything is connected within marine ecosystems. The whole ecosystem is affected.

Fully protected MPAs are therefore needed so we can understand the impact of fishing and other activities on marine ecosystems. At present in Canada, we only have about 0.1% of the ocean in fully protected MPAs.

My third point is that education, compliance, and enforcement are crucial to obtaining biodiversity benefits. A recent study found that MPAs with adequate staff capacity had ecological effects that were 2.9 times greater than MPAs with inadequate capacity.

The rockfish conservation areas, or RCAs, in B.C. are illustrative. A student of mine studied compliance with RCA rules amongst recreational fishers in B.C.’s Strait of Georgia, interviewing more than 300 recreational fishers. About 25% of people admitted to fishing illegally within RCAs. The main reason for this non-compliance was lack of knowledge. About a quarter of recreational fishers had never heard of rockfish conservation areas, 60% were unsure of where RCA boundaries were, and less than 1% knew the rules of all the prohibited and permitted gear within RCAs. Most had never seen an enforcement officer. So outreach and education are essential for successful MPAs, and enforcement officers need to have the resources to do their jobs or these areas will not actually protect biodiversity.

My fourth point is that strong science exists about the design of MPA networks, including both ecological and social considerations. To date, MPAs in Canada have been established as single areas. Moving from establishing single MPAs to networks of MPAs is the best chance Canada has to meet its targets. It will also make for ecologically more effective MPAs.

This is the approach that is being taken in the northern shelf bioregion in B.C. There is a further opportunity to accelerate the MPA implementation process because of the prior planning in the region through the marine plan partnership, which has done much of the work that’s needed, including acquiring data, running some technical analyses, and getting the support of first nations, the B.C. government, and many stakeholders.

A network of MPAs is different from a single MPA, because a network can represent the suite of different habitat types and biodiversity. In other words, every known species and habitat should have an example included within an MPA, ideally in three or more different sites, which we call replication. A network of MPAs should thus be designed so that individual MPAs are connected for species that move.

There have also been advances in the tools to design MPAs to allow for some of the potential impacts and other social considerations. For example, some decision support tools can help to meet the biodiversity objectives while minimizing potential impacts, such as those for the commercial fishing sector.

The design of the stakeholder engagement process is also really important. Stakeholder support for MPAs results in greater compliance, and hence more effective biodiversity conservation outcomes. Thus, a legitimate, transparent process is particularly important. As adjustments to proposed MPAs are made through consultations and engagement, it is crucial to check the revised boundaries of MPAs so that the biodiversity objectives can still be met and checked out with the science.

My final point is that there is an unprecedented opportunity to use MPAs to work towards reconciliation with indigenous communities. While I do not speak for the first nations that I collaborate with, I want to share some of my observations.

There’s grave concern about the state of the oceans and a keen interest from indigenous communities to use MPAs to engage in marine management. Joint management of MPAs, or co-management, which means sharing of power equally, is seen as one opportunity both to revitalize the cultural practices and to recover culturally important species.
The planning towards a network of MPAs in the northern shelf bioregion is a great step in that direction. Any Oceans Act or other MPA needs to consider first nation rights and cultural priorities, including their food, social, and ceremonial—or FSC—fishing. If done in partnership with first nations, MPAs can provide ecological conservation, cultural conservation, and food security, and can play a role in reconciliation.

Let me illustrate the need for marine conservation through two culturally important species for first nations on the central coast. This is from research that I did in partnership with the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, which comprises the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Nuxalk, and Wuikinuxv first nations. In these studies, we interviewed knowledge holders about the changes they’ve seen to these species in their food fishing.

The first is the yelloweye rockfish, a long-lived groundfish that lives to be about 120 years old and doesn’t start reproducing until about 15 years of age or older. They’re quite sedentary. The big, old female fish produce the greatest number of and most successful young. Thus, the size of yelloweye rockfish is a good indicator of their population status. The knowledge holders we interviewed saw about a 50% decline in the average size of the individuals that they caught before the 1990s to now. Declines were observed to have coincided with the start of the commercial groundfish fisheries.
The second example is that of Dungeness crab. This is a fishery that’s generally considered to be sustainable at the regional level; however, indigenous fishers have been observing declines. The central coast first nations did an experiment in which they monitored 20 bays, 10 open to fishing and 10 closed, which unsurprisingly showed that stopping fishing increases the number of legal-sized males. DFO did not formally close those 10 bays, despite requests to do so, so the first nations used indigenous law to close them and did patrols to ask commercial and recreational fishers not to fish in them.

Our interviews indicated that people had seen a 77% decline in Dungeness crab since the 1990s. This means that there seems to be serial depletion of bays getting depleted by commercial and/or multiple recreational fishing vessels, to the detriment of the local people who rely on these species for food and for their culture. Thus, the loss of abundance of these species is not only a worry for biodiversity; it also threatens the cultural continuity and revitalization of indigenous practices.

That concludes my five points. I really thank you for the opportunity to present to you today, and I look forward to your questions in a few minutes.
Thank you.