On World Oceans Day June 8th, 2010, the Honourable Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), announced the Laurentian Channel as a new Area of Interest (AOI) for potential designation as a Marine Protected Area under the Oceans Act. The identification of an AOI is the first step towards establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The goal of the Laurentian Channel MPA will be to support the conservation of biodiversity through the protection of key species, habitats, and ecosystem structure and function, and through scientific research. Conservation objectives were developed in consultation with stakeholders, and focus on six species: Sea Pens, Black Dogfish, Smooth Skate, Northern Wolffish, Porbeagle Shark, and Leatherback Sea Turtle. Many other species will also benefit from the proposed MPA regulations.
The proposed Laurentian Channel MPA is located off the southwest coast of Newfoundland and Labrador (NAFO Subdivision 3P), covers approximately 11,908 km2, and includes the water column, seabed and subsoil to a depth of 5m. The area was originally identified by DFO as an ecologically and biologically significant area (EBSA) within the Placentia Bay-Grand Banks Large Ocean Management Area (PB/GB LOMA).
Complex circulation and oceanographic conditions in the proposed MPA result in a unique habitat within Newfoundland and Labrador waters. This area contains the highest concentration of Black Dogfish in Canadian waters and is the only place where pupping occurs. It's an important spawning, nursery, and feeding area for a variety of species including Porbeagle Shark and Smooth Skate. Two species at risk - the Northern Wolffish and Leatherback Sea Turtle frequent the Area of Interest (AOI); in fact, the south coast of Newfoundland is one of the most highly-frequented leatherback foraging areas in Atlantic Canada. Porbeagle Shark move into the AOI in spring, with movement to areas further south during late fall. The AOI is one of only two known mating grounds for Porbeagle Shark. In addition, at least 20 species of cetaceans have been observed in the area, as it is a critical migration route into and out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Sensitive habitats within the AOI are represented by various species of corals. Of these species, sea pens have been recorded in the greatest numbers and diversity; with the Laurentian Channel having the highest sea pen concentrations within the entire Newfoundland and Labrador Shelves Bioregion. In particular, the role of cold-water corals as essential fish habitat has been recently emphasized following the discovery of larvae of commercial redfish among the polyps of sea pens and other soft corals within the Laurentian Channel.
The MPA regulations will include a general prohibition of activities that are likely to result in: disturbance, damage, destruction, or removal of any living marine organism or any part of its habitat; and, activities resulting in the discharge of substances which might impact organisms, habitat or marine environmental quality. Additional proposed regulations are currently being developed through consultations, and will focus on restricting all commercial fishing in the MPA, and limiting oil and gas exploration and production drilling activities to specific areas. Marine transportation and scientific research will not be impacted.
Upon establishment, the Laurentian Channel MPA will be the largest no-take zone in Canada. Official MPA designation is expected by 2016.