VANCOUVER, March 6, 2019 /CNW/ - Keeping our oceans clean, safe and healthy is essential for our environment and our economy. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the ocean and the abundance of marine biodiversity that calls it home.
Today, Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced the establishment of eight marine refuges in Howe Sound to protect nine newly discovered glass sponge reefs. Located in the Salish Sea, immediately northwest of Vancouver, the Howe Sound glass sponge reefs are some of the most biologically productive reefs, providing habitat for more than 84 species of invertebrates and fish, such as prawns and rockfish. Together, the 9 reefs clean over 17 billion litres of water – the equivalent of nearly 6,800 Olympic swimming pools - in Howe Sound every day, filtering bacteria and processing carbon and nitrogen.
Fishery closures to preserve the glass sponge reefs will take effect in advance of the spring fishing season and apply to all commercial, recreational and Indigenous bottom contact fishing activities. Prawn and crab traps, shrimp and groundfish trawls, groundfish hook and line, and the use of downrigger gear in recreational salmon trolling are now prohibited within the protected areas. Glass sponge reefs are highly fragile, grow slowly and take a long time to recover once damaged, making them particularly vulnerable to impacts from these types of fishing gear.
These marine refuges have been established following consultations with local First Nations, federal and provincial government agencies, industry and conservation organizations as part of an ecosystem-based management approach that strives to create a healthy balance between vibrant aquatic systems and communities.
"These ancient and vibrant reefs remind us of just how important it is to protect unique and ecologically significant ecosystems that exist, sometimes right at the doorstep of a major metropolitan city. These new marine refuges are a great example of how we can achieve effective ocean management and marine conservation when all interested parties work together towards a common goal".
The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
"The prehistoric glass sponge reefs found along the Pacific coast are an international treasure that plays an important role in our marine ecosystems. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the biological diversity and health of the marine environment in Canada for present and future generations."
Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country
- The establishment of these new marine refuges marks yet another important step towards Canada's commitment to reach its conservation targets of protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020.
- The Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef marine refuges will contribute an additional 3.5 km2 to Canada's protected marine and coastal areas.
- Glass sponge reefs are only found in the Pacific Northwest of North America. They were thought to have gone extinct until they were found by Natural Resources Canada in 1987—a discovery that scientists have compared to finding a herd of dinosaurs.
- Closures will preserve the glass sponge reefs from all bottom-contact fishing activities and will take effect in advance of the 2019 spring fish season.
- Backgrounder – New marine refuges in Howe Sound to protect glass sponge reefs
- Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef marine refuges
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New marine refuges in Howe Sound to protect glass sponge reefs
On March 6, 2019, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced the establishment of eight new marine refuges to protect nine newly discovered glass sponge reefs. Each marine refuge will protect one glass sponge reef, with the exception of one that will protect two of the glass sponge reefs that are close together.
Glass sponge reefs are unique to the Pacific Northwest of North America and were thought to have gone extinct until their discovery in 1987 by Natural Resources Canada. Scientists have likened the discovery of these long-living and fragile glass sponge reefs to discovering a herd of dinosaurs. They are biologically and ecologically significant and provide important habitat and nursery grounds for many invertebrate and fish species including economically important species such as prawns and rockfish. Additionally, they provide an essential water filtration service by removing bacteria and processing carbon and nitrogen as they filter feed.
The protection of corals and sponge reefs is a key component of Canada's efforts to preserving ocean biodiversity by protecting unique and important marine species and habitats. In addition, the Government of Canada continues to be committed to meeting its marine conservation target (MCT) of protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020 in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, industry, academia and the conservation sector.
The Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef marine refuges protect the glass sponge reefs from all commercial, recreational and Indigenous bottom contact fishing activities in the area (prawn trap, crab trap, shrimp trawl, groundfish trawl, groundfish hook and line, and the use of downrigger gear in recreational salmon trolling).
These closures take effect in advance of the spring 2019 fishing season and include a 150 m boundary extending beyond the reefs edges. This precautionary measure was put in place to address the uncertainty associated with the accuracy of gear deployment, possible impacts of sediment plumes caused by gear placement near the reefs, and to allow for new sponge growth.
Consultation Process and Science Advice for Fishery Closures
In 2014, DFO embarked on a consultation process to conserve nine glass sponge reefs in the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound. By 2016, all nine reefs were closed to bottom contact commercial, recreational and Indigenous fishing activities with a 150m boundary extending beyond the reefs edges and are now recognized as marine refuges that contribute to the MCT.
During this consultation process, nine additional glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound were brought to DFO's attention by the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society and were flagged for future research and consideration. A Fishery Notice and letter from DFO was sent to First Nations and stakeholders in September 2017 requesting Voluntary Avoidance of these sites as a precautionary measure.
In 2018, the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat published a peer-reviewed report Glass Sponge Aggregations in Howe Sound: Locations, Reef Status and Ecological Significance Assessment that identified 18 potential reefs in Howe Sound and mapped their boundaries using a remotely operated vehicle. The report confirmed that nine sites contain ecologically and biologically significant reefs, and provide vital habitat for at least 84 species of invertebrates and fish. Nine others require additional ground-truthing to confirm their ecological significance.
Subsequently, a risk assessment was conducted internally, based on DFO's Ecological Risk Assessment Framework for Coldwater Corals and Sponge Dominated Communities. The results concluded that closure of bottom contact fishing, including prawn by trap, crab by trap, shrimp and groundfish by trawl, groundfish hook and line, and recreational midwater salmon trolling using downrigger gear, is required to adequately protect these fragile glass sponge reefs.
Consultations were undertaken with First Nations, commercial fish harvesters, recreational fish harvesters and conservation organizations on measures to protect these glass sponge reefs from fishing impacts. These included several workshops, numerous bilateral meetings with different groups, and extensive correspondence throughout the process leading up to the designation of the reefs.
SOURCE Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Region
For further information: Jocelyn Lubczuk, Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, 343-548-7863, [email protected]; Media Relations: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 613-990-7537, [email protected]