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Oceans Act enforces glass sponge reef marine protected area regulations

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – British Columbia (CPAWS-BC) welcomes the conviction of illegal fishing in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (Hecate MPA).

Illegal commercial groundfish harvesting was found to have occurred in the marine protected areas. A fine of $20,000 for illegal activity prohibited under the Hecate MPA Regulations, the first conviction under the Oceans Act nationwide. An additional fine, under the Fisheries Act, of $25,000 for possessing illegally caught fish was ordered to be paid.

“We would like to thank Fisheries and Oceans Canada for enforcing MPA regulations under the Oceans Act and protecting B.C.’s glass sponge reefs,” says Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Manager for CPAWS-BC.

Map of Marine Protected Areas. DFO, 2020.

Located in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound off B.C.’s north and central coasts, the Hecate MPA glass sponge reefs are a world treasure. Once thought extinct for millions of years, glass sponge reefs are now known only to live in the northeast Pacific Ocean, mainly off B.C.’s coast.

CPAWS-BC has been working since the early 2000s to protect B.C.’s glass sponge reefs. After years of pushing for protection, we celebrated when the Hecate MPA was created by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2017. CPAWS-BC continues to work with First Nations and the Government of Canada to protect other vulnerable glass sponge reefs in B.C.  Enforcement of these Oceans Act MPA regulations will help ensure these rare ecosystems are not destroyed due to human activities.

Glass sponges are filter feeders. They do this so efficiently that 95% of bacteria are filtered out, cleaning the water. In fact, a single small reef can filter enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 60 seconds! Glass sponge reefs provide shelter for bottom-dwelling creatures such as rockfish and prawns.

Fishing activity can cause severe harm to these fragile habitats. Prawn and crab traps drop down and crush glass sponge reefs. Bottom trawling of heavy nets dragged along the seafloor destroy everything in their path while kicking up clouds of disturbed sediment, that prevent the sponges from feeding. 

While this conviction means that the Hecate MPA is being enforced, more work needs to be done. Jameson says, “Now we need a management plan for this MPA with effective education, outreach, and additional protections to prevent these offences from occurring in the future.”

Resources

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2020, January 20). Safeguarding our future through the Oceans Act [News Release]. Retrieved https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2020/01/safeguarding-our-future-through-the-oceans-act.html

Quillback rockfish on glass sponge reef. Photo Credit: Diane Reid