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Our Water & Ocean

Q&A With Minister Diane Lebouthillier

Mediaplanet sat down with the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier to learn more about her 2024 strategic priorities.

What is the importance of Ocean Protection in Canada?

Canada is home to hardworking and vital fish harvesters and processors who, with our incredible resources, continue the proud tradition of producing some of the best quality fish and seafood products in the world. These are Canadians who get up early every morning to put quality fish and seafood on our plates, and who contribute to food security, and a multi-billion-dollar industry that makes Canada the envy of the world.

But as we know, the issues and challenges they are facing are numerous. And with climate change and the resulting warming of the oceans, everything is changing underwater right now. We are not nearing consequential changes; we are living them.

Our oceans play a complex but central role in regulating the Earth’s climate, and if we don’t protect the vital ocean ecosystems that sustain marine life, we will not have any fish left to fish. That’s only one of the many reasons why oceans protection is so consequential, and it’s why under our government, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working to protect 30 % of Canada’s oceans by 2030.

We also know that oceans do not understand borders, and that’s why Canada’s efforts must also be coordinated with the rest of the world through initiatives like the historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework that Canada helped to land at COP15 in Montreal (2022). Through this, 195 countries agreed to protect 30% of lands and waters by 2030, and address key drivers of biodiversity loss, such as pollution and overexploitation of nature. 

Protecting our oceans also means tackling illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing to maintain sustainable fisheries around the globe. In October 2023, DFO Fishery officers successfully completed the first Canadian-led high seas patrol to detect and deter IUU fishing in the North-Pacific alongside the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Work to protect Canada’s oceans must and will continue every day. We owe it to future generations to ensure that they have healthy oceans and can continue to fish and enjoy seafood products across the country.

How has Ocean Protection improved in Canada over the years?

On March 5th, 2024, Minister Lebouthillier signed on behalf of Canada the “High-Seas Treaty”, or BBNJ Agreement, to adhere to a coordinated approach to establishing marine protected areas on the high seas beyond national jurisdiction alongside Canada’s international partners. And on March 7, 2024, minister Lebouthillier met with Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Richard W. Spinrad in Washington to discuss shared issues between Canada and the United States, including oceans protection.

Since 2015, tremendous progress has been made – Canada went from protecting less than 1% of its oceans to over 14.6% by working closely with provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments, and with the support and contributions of coastal communities. To be clear, collaboration is key to implementing the nature-based solutions required to help address the impacts of climate change on our marine ecosystems, their habitats, and species.

These commitments continue to be a priority, spearheaded by the most significant ocean conservation investments in a generation including: up to $800M over 7 years to support up to 4 Indigenous-led conservation initiatives through the Project Finance for Permanence (2022), and $976.8M over 5 years to reach our marine conservation targets through the establishment of additional Marine protected areas (MPAs) and Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs), such as marine refuges (2021).

While negotiations continue for all 4 PFP initiatives, in October 2023, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, signed an agreement-in-principle with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to create and support MPAs in Nunavut through the Inuit-led Qikiqtani PFP.

The same month, Minister Lebouthillier signed the Letter of Intent for Cooperation on Pikialasorsuaq with her Greenlandic counterpart, the Minister of Agriculture, Self-Sufficiency, Energy and Environment, Kalistat Lund. The Letter of Intent will allow for the implementation of a joint steering committee across Canada and Greenland for the conservation of Pikialasorsuaq Arctic polynya, with representation from Inuit and national governments on both sides.

How is Canada addressing gear loss and abandoned boats? 

As climate change contributes to more intense storms, our government is also investing to address gear loss in Canada and abroad through the Ghost Gear Program. Launched in 2020, the Ghost Gear Program assists harvesters, environmental groups, Indigenous communities, the aquaculture industry, and coastal communities to retrieve harmful ghost gear and plastic, which poses danger of entanglement for marine mammals such as the North Atlantic Right Whale, from Canadian waters. Since 2020, the Ghost Gear Fund has supported over 135 projects (as of February 2024) to retrieve lost fishing gear. Retrieval partners have so far collected over:

2,214 tonnes of lost gear

35,329 units of gear; and

857 kilometres of rope

And, after years of neglect by the previous government, Canada has removed 584 abandoned boats since 2017 under the Oceans Protection Plan (2016), the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways.

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