There are two existing marine-protected areas where exploration companies hold oil-and-gas discovery licences: the Tarium Niryutait protected area off the Northwest Territories and the Gully protected area off Nova Scotia. Mr. Wilkinson said those licences won’t be immediately cancelled but will be reconsidered when the management plans for each come up for regular reviews. Neither has active exploration going on now.
It will be up to provinces to determine the standards for marine areas protected by provincial legislation.
The standards will also not apply in marine refuges, which are more numerous areas where governments impose fisheries closures, often to protect just a single species. Some still allow oil-and-gas operations. The ones that do will not be counted toward Canada’s commitment to protect 10 per cent of the country’s marine and coastal areas by 2020.
With the new 11,600-square-kilometre Laurentian protected area announced on Thursday, Canada has now hit 8.27 per cent on its quest to get to 10 per cent, and more than half of that is in refuges. In 2015, Canada had protected only about one per cent.
Mr. Wilkinson said no refuges will be removed from that total at the moment.
Oceana Canada, a charity devoted to protecting ocean life, raised concerns that four months after Canada named the Northeast Newfoundland Slope Conservation Area – a 47,000-square-kilometre section of the Atlantic Ocean – as a marine refuge in 2017, it agreed to allow oil-and-gas exploration in the same area. That decision also angered local fishers since the designation barred all fishing in the name of environmental protection.