Collaborative marine management underway on B.C.’s North Coast: A primer on the Regional Action Framework

MaPP-boundary

The white-bordered area in this satellite image shows the B.C. coastal region addressed by the Regional Action Framework (RAF). Each of the four sub-regions, whose locally-developed marine plans were used to create the RAF, are shown within the RAF boundary.

The Regional Action Framework (RAF) is the result of intensive consultation and planning for marine areas along the North Pacific Coast of B.C., from Campbell River through to the Alaskan border. Its broad view prioritizes both ecosystem and human well-being, as well as collaborative and efficient marine management.

With a 20-year scope, implementation of the RAF is now underway.

The Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) plan area is comprised of four sub-regions: Haida Gwaii, the North Coast, the Central Coast and North Vancouver Island. As each sub-region has its own unique set of marine environments, local values, governance mechanisms, and socio-economic contexts, the MaPP partners agreed in 2011 that each sub-region would develop its own goals for marine management, in consultation with local stakeholders.

Knowing there would be some overlap among all sub-regional priorities, MaPP partners agreed in the same year to also create a framework that considers the entire region, looking at broad ecosystem issues as a whole.

The result is the RAF, completed in May 2016. It identifies common elements from all four sub-regional marine plans, and supports the sub-regions to work together in addressing common goals. This collaboration on the actions identified in the RAF will benefit the region as a whole, saving time and money. Over the 20-year implementation period the RAF aims to improve both coastal community and ocean health.

Implementation of some shared priorities is already well-underway.

One priority is developing and monitoring indicators for both human well-being in the region, which includes monitoring new economic opportunities and investments, as well as ecological integrity, which includes monitoring ocean conditions, intertidal life and species composition.

“For example, MaPP technicians and community members from all sub-regions identified that monitoring eelgrass abundance and distribution was important, so that will likely become one of our regional indicators,” said Romney McPhie, the regional projects coordinator for MaPP, who helps coordinate MaPP partners across the sub-regions. “Observing these trends in eelgrass beds over time will help MaPP partners assess how their actions on other priorities may be impacting eelgrass”, McPhie noted.

Ecosystem-based management underlies the RAF, where both ecological and human well-being are considered as components of an entire system. It’s an adaptive approach, and in keeping with that, evaluations and adjustments will be made to the RAF every five years.

Planning undertaken by MaPP partners, including creation of the RAF, has demonstrated an unprecedented level of collaboration in marine management for B.C.’s coast. The provincial government and 18 First Nations partnered during the planning phase, and collaboration between the Province and First Nations continues throughout implementation. Traditional knowledge and values of partner First Nations were an integral part of developing the RAF, along with provincial government priorities, and local community values.

The RAF also received input from an advisory committee of marine-based stakeholders, including industry representatives, conservationists, recreationalists, and elected local officials, as well as from a science advisory committee.

Additional RAF actions underway include identifying climate change indicators that will inform response strategies, assessing cumulative effects of overlapping activities in coastal areas, supporting and coordinating pollution responses, coordinating and supporting the development of marine emergency response plans and planned performance monitoring to ensure that the RAF is effectively implemented.

Through the RAF and sub-regional plans, MaPP partners aim to improve coastal ocean health, increase employment in local communities and diversify jobs, and give proponents more certainty concerning their investments in the coastal zone. Over the long-term, the RAF will enable a broader understanding of how the ocean works and ensure all those concerned have a deeper understanding of how to manage the North Pacific Coast of B.C. more holistically and efficiently.

Building emergency response capacity in coastal communities

oilspill_w275It’s hard to plan for something you hope will never happen, and yet being prepared for a crisis increases the chances of managing an emergency efficiently and equitably.

Today on the coast there is significant marine traffic, and with that traffic come risks. Yet at the same time, this traffic helps generate economic activity and jobs up and down the coast. It is critical to ensure that this traffic stays safe and that there are plans in place should an accident happen.

For coastal communities, one way of getting prepared could mean developing a geographic response plan (GRP) – a plan that can kick into action within the first hours of an incident, often well before emergency response agencies can get to the scene.  GRPs consider the multiple priorities of coastal communities – social, cultural, ecological, and economic.

Because GRPs pre-identify priorities such as areas for protection, location of human and equipment resources, and places of refuge for troubled vessels, they can accelerate response time and help to reduce the threat and impacts of an incident.

One deliverable of the MaPP initiative is to help communities in the MaPP study area understand and define the nature and scope of GRPs. The initiative has contracted environmental emergency response planner Stafford Reid to begin the work. “Geographic response plans are part of coastal planning management – a tool for managing the impacts from all types of vessels and all types of cargo,” Reid says.

The tough work in emergency response planning is determining the priorities for first responders. What gets first attention – a cultural heritage site, environmentally sensitive habitat, or a business? The process needs to be collaborative, transparent and considerate of diverse possibilities, since trade-offs are inevitable and difficult decisions have to be made. And in the moment of a crisis, there is little time for discussion.

Graham Knox, director of the Environmental Emergencies Program with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, says, “If we can do this sort of work up front, then the first responders can hit the ground running in that first 24- to 48-hour period, while the cavalry gets mustered and until the Incident Command Post and the incident management teams are in place.”

The Incident Command Post integrates many response teams, including Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Environment Canada, Ministry of Environment, First Nations and local government, as well as the ship owner and its contracted response organization.

“In the field of emergency management, all emergencies start at the local level. So, it’s critical that local people are engaged and included in all phases of preparedness through response and recovery,” Knox says. “First Nations and other people living in the coastal communities have a lot of information that more centralized agencies may not have.”

GRPs, which are well developed in the United States, have evolved from hard-copy documents to web-based, multi-media applications that include geographic information systems, databases, documents, images and videos. GRP design and development is new to Canada.

The MaPP initiative has compiled a suite of studies and datasets that could support GRP development, not to mention the wealth of on-the-ground knowledge and expertise in coastal communities. In addition to the draft marine plans, MaPP resources include traditional, local and scientific knowledge, technical expertise and mapping/planning tools such as the marine planning portal with over 300 data layers.

Understanding interdependence to inform marine planning

MaPP workshop participants explore options for an integrated suite of human well-being and ecological indicators.

MaPP workshop participants explore options for an integrated suite of human well-being and ecological indicators.

What does your doctor do if you show up in his or her office complaining of a pain on the left side of your chest? Take your blood pressure? Check out your cholesterol?

In fact, today’s health practitioners are starting to do a lot more than that. They might ask you about your eating habits (too much unhealthy fast food?), your stress levels, and what you’re doing for exercise.

Just as our society has started to adopt a more holistic view of health, we’ve also realized that it might help us to look at other aspects of our lives through a variety of lenses.

That, at least, is the premise of ecosystem-based management, or EBM, the type of approach that’s been adopted by the MaPP initiative. “You can’t look at things in a single box,” says Andrew Day, a natural resource expert and consultant who has been contracted by the MaPP initiative to develop an integrated suite of human well-being and ecological indicators.

“Just one lens is not enough,” he says. “The idea behind EBM is to start looking at things from many different lenses to get a better picture of what’s happening in the system.”

When considering a particular agency’s viewpoint, for example, Day knows it’s just as important to consider the perspectives of First Nations, businesses, scientists, non-profit groups, and the public. Day says all these views are valuable and by acknowledging and respecting them it’s possible to get a better understanding of what’s happening in the system.

It also helps to understand how human well-being indicators (social, economic, cultural, and technological) are interconnected with ecological well-being indicators such as species and habitats. “One of the big questions is understanding how things relate to each other and the consequences of different decisions and actions,” Day says.

As a trained lawyer with a PhD in natural resource management, Day says it’s his job to draw on the expertise of others and then boil down or integrate their knowledge. “I travelled and worked in Africa for almost five years and became involved in community development,” he says. “When I came back to the coast, I connected with a number of First Nations chiefs, mayors, fishermen, agencies, and businesses who could see they needed to start working together and managing things more holistically. They started with the principles of interconnection and respect.”

Day says that one of the keys to success in the 21st century will be understanding interdependence and “trying to understand and respect the ways in which what you do over here, is going to affect what you get over there.” He recognizes this is difficult to do, in part because it is not the way systems, operations, and thinking occurred during the industrial revolution.

But that is changing now.  As an example of one area that’s taken big strides in trying to build partnerships and move towards a more ecosystem approach, he cites the Puget Sound Partnership. Inspired by a governor and many leaders who were determined to make the area healthier, the region developed some ambitious goals and indicator tracking. You can see them at the Puget Sound Vital Signs website. “It’s presented in a way that everyone can understand,” Day says. “It’s not just scientific reports – it’s much more accessible.”

In B.C., the MaPP initiative has hired Day to recommend indicators and options for monitoring the marine area. His team has reviewed indicators from other parts of the world, conducted surveys of more than 200 ecological experts, and facilitated several workshops with businesses, governments, scientists, managers and First Nations.

They have reduced more than 1,000 potential indicators to a suite of about 50.  Team members are now working on guide sheets for the recommended indicators and looking at different monitoring programs and partnerships.

“Canada’s coasts are globally significant and unique, with high ecological values and incredible economic potential,” he says. “It’s important to manage them properly or they could become degraded like so many other coastal areas in the world.”

Seafood delivers a bounty to coastal communities

bcseafoodWhile eating more fish might seem like a simple, healthy dietary decision, in fact, it also offers consumers the chance to make a big difference to coastal communities in British Columbia.

That’s the passionate belief of Jamie Alley, a former director with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, now retired and consulting to government, First Nations and the seafood industry.

“The seafood industry is not in sunset – in fact, it’s in sunrise,” he says. “Seafood is one of the most globally traded commodities. And considering the quality of the resource here, our industry is relatively underdeveloped.

Ironically, Alley says, even though the public sometimes fails to appreciate how valuable seafood really is, “it is the cornerstone of a lot of coastal communities.”

This is because B.C.’s oceans and fresh waters support more than 100 species of fish, shellfish and marine plants. With a combined current wholesale value of more than $1.4 billion, B.C. seafood travels around the world, with some 80 per cent of it being exported. In 2011, it ended up in two billion meals in 74 countries.

A key figure in working with industry to market the B.C. seafood brand for many years, Alley recalls travelling to Europe with the former executive chef from Vancouver’s C Restaurant, Rob Clark, to promote Pacific sablefish, or black cod.  “At the time, we were selling 90 per cent of [the sablefish] catch to Japan and needed to diversify,” he recalls. “But at this event we had dozens of white-tablecloth, European chefs and global seafood traders lined up and down the aisles waiting to try one of the best fish in the world. “ As Alley puts it, marketing efforts like that, “help put money in the jeans of people in small rural communities.”

Sales of B.C. sablefish in Europe have increased dramatically since Alley’s trip, going from only $220,000 in 2007 to well over $3 million in 2012.

Alley believes that the secret to continued success is shifting from a high-quantity fishery with a low value – to a low-quantity fishery with a high value. Stories like the sablefish one have helped convince him that fish are more than simply a delicious food. They are also an economic engine for rural B.C.

According to Alley, jobs in the seafood industry in coastal communities are comparatively more valuable to the social and economic fabric of British Columbia than service sector jobs in the Lower Mainland.

“Seafood-industry jobs pay relatively well,” he says. These jobs tend to be located in smaller, coastal areas where overall unemployment rates can be high. Fisheries-related jobs, like those at seafood processing facilities, are particularly important for First Nations people, many of whom live in remote communities, far from urban centres. “There’s no other part of the coastal economy that has such a high participation of First Nations,” Alley says. First Nations people represent roughly 30 per cent of the workforce in the seafood-processing sector.

B.C. also has some of the best, most sustainably managed fisheries in the world. The global standard for seafood eco-certification, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), has developed tough, best-practice standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. The group’s mission? To recognize and reward sustainable fishing practices and thereby improve the health of the world’s oceans.

Six fisheries in B.C. are currently MSC certified and more are in the works. These are British Columbia chum, pink and sockeye salmon, albacore tuna, Pacific hake mid-water trawl, and Pacific halibut. In the MaPP study area, five fisheries are currently MSC certified – north and central coast chum salmon are in assessment. According to the 2011 British Columbia Seafood Year in Review, published by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, some 63 per cent of British Columbia’s groundfish harvest and 60 per cent of the salmon harvest was from MSC-certified fisheries. Overall, 47 per cent of B.C.’s wild capture fisheries harvest was from MSC-certified fisheries. Certified fisheries can use the eco-label program to market their products and influence the choices consumers make when buying seafood.

“B.C.’s seafood is healthy and sustainably managed,” says Alley. “You can buy it with confidence and support our fisherman to export it with pride to the world.”