Canada aims to tackle illegal international fishing and lead global commitments on marine protected areas with the close of the United Nations Ocean Conference last week.

Joyce Murray, minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), headed a delegation at the five-day summit in Lisbon with a focus on sharing science and data to solve the ocean crisis driven by climate change, overfishing, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The nations and other stakeholders such as policymakers, scientists and environmental groups at the conference all agree on the urgency and need to protect oceans, Murray told Canada’s National Observer on Monday.

Oceans are critical to buffering a changing climate, absorbing 90 per cent of the excess heat generated by human activity. But they’re in trouble: since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has doubled, leading to the bleaching of coral reefs, shifting fish populations, declines in biodiversity and ocean acidification that negatively impact shelled marine animals.

“The global community has to work together on turning things around with the oceans,” Murray said, noting climate change is the “challenge of a lifetime” and healthy oceans are a critical piece of the solution.

But the plague of ocean problems is not the sole focus of international co-operation, Murray added.

“It's also about the importance of the ocean to communities and the variety of economic activities from food production to tourism that make (them) so incredibly important to our future.”

At the gathering, Canada advocated for priorities such as sustainable fisheries and a global commitment to protecting 30 per cent of ocean area by 2030 in tandem with developing a blue economy, the minister said.

Canada, along with the United Kingdom, United States, Iceland and a number of scientific and ocean protection groups, agreed to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing on the high seas, Murray added.

The scale of the IUU fishing threat is significant, representing 30 per cent of fishing activity globally and taking 26 million tonnes of fish from international waters annually, DFO reports.

Canada championed pledges to combat illegal fishing on the high seas and encouraged international partners to join efforts to protect 30 per cent of the world's marine areas by 2030 at the recent UN Ocean Conference.

Valuable Canadian fish stocks, including salmon and tuna, migrate beyond national boundaries into international waters where an increased threat of IUU fishing exists, the agency said.

The IUU Fishing Action Alliance Pledge commits members to implementing global agreements to prevent illegal fishing, step up monitoring, control and surveillance of illicit fishing and encourage transparency and data sharing.

Canada also shared information at the conference on the technology and methods it’s using to track IUU fishing, such as its Dark Vessel Detection program, which uses satellite data to help smaller coastal states, such as Ecuador, track illicit fishing in regions of concern like the Galápagos Islands, Murray said.

“This ocean conference is about sharing ideas and best practices and being able to move together as a collective of nations more quickly by collaborating,” she said.

As a member of the Global Ocean Alliance, Canada also encouraged other countries to commit to the 30x30 pledge to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) that conserve 30 per cent of ocean areas by 2030, Murray said.

While DFO has faced criticism from some First Nations on the West Coast that are tired of waiting on the federal government to establish MPAs, Murray said she’s confident any stumbling blocks have been resolved. The MPA process integrates an Indigenous-led conservation model with the department’s framework for fisheries management, which has resulted in temporary delays, she explained.

“We have a renewed optimism as to how this is working and I’m going to do my level best to be a problem-solver,” Murray said.

The minister said she expects to make an announcement concerning the B.C. Northern Shelf Marine Protected Area Network on the West Coast before February. That’s when Vancouver will host the fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5), a UN-endorsed conference where stakeholders, scientists and policymakers will hash out baselines for international parameters and protections for MPAs.

Canada took the opportunity of the UN Ocean Conference to invite international partners to IMPAC5, Murray said.

“At this point, every country has its own definition of marine protected area and there is no co-ordinated approach,” she said.

“These kinds of collaborations are all really important for the global community to make progress that's real and measurable and to do it together.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer