Fisheries and Oceans Canada



Fisheries and Oceans Canada

June 08, 2013 09:56 ET

Minister MacKay Announces Support to Canada's Unique Marine Habitat on World Oceans Day

PICTOU, NOVA SCOTIA--(Marketwired - June 8, 2013) - The Honourable Peter MacKay, Regional Minister for Nova Scotia, on behalf of the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced today that the Harper Government is protecting two areas of the Scotian Shelf by closing them to bottom-contact fishing. This action protects a rare sponge off Nova Scotia on the eastern Scotian Shelf, Vazella Pourtalesi, from intrusive human activities.

"Today's announcement demonstrates our government's commitment to protecting sensitive marine habitat and species," said Minister MacKay. "I am pleased that this agreement stems from our work with industry and community partners to conserve our important marine habitat while ensuring Canadians can continue to benefit from the opportunities our ocean resources present."

Vazella Pourtalesi is known to exist in only two other locations worldwide; the Gulf of Mexico and the Azores, where they reside as individuals or within small aggregations. In Canadian waters, however, large densities of the species have formed globally-unique sponge grounds, qualifying for protection under Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Policy for Managing the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas.

The areas to be closed amount to 259 square kilometres on the eastern Scotian Shelf. Fishing with drags, traps, barrels, bottom-set trawls, longlines and gillnets, and any other type of fishing gear that contacts the sea floor, will be prohibited. Gear that does not come into contact with the sea floor, such as purse seines, and pelagic longlines and gillnets, may still be used.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada's decision follows departmental consultation with a working group comprised of representatives from the fishing industry and Aboriginal groups. The working group provided a forum to bring forward and discuss options for the boundaries of the closures. In making its decision, the department worked to strike a balance between various stakeholder perspectives while minimizing the socio-economic impacts where possible.

"We support the need for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to implement appropriate area closures to protect this unique species," said Mr. Bruce Chapman, Executive Director of the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council (GEAC). "For the most part the closures are designed around the voluntary area closure that has already been implemented by our member companies."

The Government of Canada has been conducting research in offshore waters to identify unique ecosystems and deep water species for a number of years. The Government has implemented conservation measures under both the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act to protect deep-sea corals in the Gully Marine Protected Area, the Lophelia Conservation Area, and in the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation Area.

For more information on the protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, or on the globally-unique Vazella Pourtalesi sponge grounds, please visit the following websites: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca and www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/media/back-fiche/2013/hq-ac22a-eng.htm

For broadcast:

The Honourable Peter MacKay, Regional Minister for Nova Scotia, on behalf of the Honourable Keith Ashfield, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, announced today that the Harper Government is protecting a rare sponge off Nova Scotia on the eastern Scotian Shelf. DFO will close two areas on the Scotian Shelf to bottom-contact fishing to protect the sponge grounds of Vazella Pourtalesi, which is a very fragile species of glass sponge.

The closures will amount to 259 square kilometres of the sponge ground's 8,000 square kilometre distribution range. Fishing with drags; traps; barrels; bottom-set trawls, longlines and gillnets; and any other type of fishing gear that contacts the sea floor will be prohibited. Gear that does not come into contact with the sea floor, such as purse seines, and pelagic longlines and gillnets, may still be used.

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BACKGROUNDER

Habitat Closures Will Protect Globally-Unique Sponge Grounds

Globally-Unique Aggregations

Vazella Pourtalesi is a rare, fragile and structure-forming species of glass sponge that is known to exist in only three locations worldwide: the Gulf of Mexico, the Azores, and in Canada. It is only here, on Nova Scotia's eastern Scotian Shelf, that large aggregations of Vazella Pourtalesi have formed globally-unique sponge grounds. In comparison, Vazella Pourtalesi found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Azores exist only as individuals or in small aggregations.

Sponge grounds are created when many sponges grow in the same area, particularly larger sponges like Vazella Pourtalesi. The grounds provide significant deep-sea habitat, and enhance species diversity and abundance.

In an effort to help conserve and protect these unique sponge grounds, they will receive protection under Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Policy for Managing the Impacts of Fishing on Sensitive Benthic Areas. As such, the two areas on the eastern Scotian Shelf that contain the most Vazella Pourtalesi will be closed to bottom-contact fishing.

The closures will amount to 259 square kilometres of the sponge ground's 8,000 square kilometre distribution range. Fishing with drags; traps; barrels; bottom-set trawls, longlines and gillnets; and any other type of fishing gear that contacts the sea floor will be prohibited. Gear that does not come into contact with the sea floor, such as purse seines, and pelagic longlines and gillnets, may still be used.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Sensitive Benthic Areas Policy is part of the Department's commitment under the United Nations to identify and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in domestic waters. The Policy's objective is to reduce the impacts of fishing on sensitive benthic habitats, or avoid serious or irreversible harm to sensitive marine habitat, communities, and species.

Benthic habitats, composed of species living on or under the sea floor, are essential components of Canada's oceans environments. They provide habitat and food web support; are an important source of biodiversity; and they support many aquatic species that are important to Canadians and our economy.

Impacts

Sponges are slow-growing, primitive aquatic animals that live attached to the sea floor. As such, they can be adversely affected by human activities such as fishing. Slow growth rates, longevity, variable recruitment, and habitat-limiting factors also make them particularly vulnerable to direct physical impacts and limit recovery.

Researchers have discovered damage to the Scotian Shelf concentrations of Vazella pourtalesi from such impacts.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been conducting research in offshore waters to identify unique ecosystems and deep water species for a number of years. Starting in 2002, the Department has implemented conservation measures under both the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act to protect deep-sea corals in the Gully Marine Protected Area (2004), the Lophelia Conservation Area (2004), and in the Northeast Channel Coral Conservation Area (2002).

Images and a map are available at the following address: http://media3.marketwire.com/docs/Vazella_Pourtalesi_EN.pdf

Contact Information

  • Communications Branch
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Maritimes Region
    902-426-3550

    Barbara Mottram
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    613-992-3474