MPA Network Planning Process | B.C. Northern Shelf

Establishing an MPA network


Establish Process & Involve Others

There are several First Nations whose traditional territories cover areas within the Northern Shelf who are not currently signatories to the emerging governance agreement. The approaches and tools for federal and provincial engagement with First Nations will be designed to suit different stages in the planning process, and developed and adapted based on discussions with those Nations.

Stakeholders and local governments engage in the planning process primarily through advisory committees. Four sub-regional and a bioregional advisory committee were established to facilitate the exchange of information and provide opportunities for members to give feedback throughout the planning process. Terms of Reference for the committees have been developed outlining how membership is determined, as well as roles and responsibilities of committee members and the MPATT chairs. An Engagement Strategy outlines other approaches and tools used to engage stakeholders and local governments.

A Science Advisory Committee has been established to provide scientific and technical guidance and feedback upon request to assist with the development of the MPA network. Learn more about engagement here.

Status: Ongoing

Define Goals, Objectives & Planning Principles


Network planning in the Northern Shelf is guided by the six goals for a coast-wide network of marine protected areas that are identified in the Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy (the Strategy). The goals are the primary means of achieving the vision for the network, and they provide the umbrella for the development of more specific network objectives. Of the six goals listed below, Goal 1 takes priority.

The goals are as follows:

  1. To protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features.
  2. To contribute to the conservation and protection of fishery resources and their habitats.
  3. To maintain and facilitate opportunities for tourism and recreation.
  4. To contribute to social, community and economic certainty and stability.
  5. To conserve and protect traditional use, cultural heritage and archaeological resources.
  6. To provide opportunities for scientific research, education and awareness

Status: Complete

Planning Principles

Together with the goals and objectives, the suite of 16 guiding principles, identified in the Canada-B.C. MPA network Strategy, will help to guide site selection and shape the network planning process.

Network principles, listed below, are separated into three categories: ecological design principles, socio-economic and cultural design principles, and general operating principles. Together with the goals and objectives, the principles will help guide site selection, and shape the network planning process.

These principles draw on international best practices and support a balanced approach to the protection of ecological, socio-economic, cultural and spiritual values in the MPA network.


  1. Include the full range of biodiversity present in Pacific Canada.
  2. Ensure ecologically or biologically significant areas are incorporated.
  3. Ensure ecological linkages.
  4. Maintain long-term protection.
  5. Ensure maximum contribution of individual MPAs.


  1. Recognize and consider the full range of uses, activities and values supported by marine environments.
  2. Maximize the positive.
  3. Minimize the negative.
  4. Enhance management effectiveness and compliance to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
  5. Work with people.
  6. Respect First Nations’ treaties, title, rights, aspirations and world-view.


  1. Foster ecosystem-based management.
  2. Apply adaptive management.
  3. Build on existing MPAs, other management tools and marine planning initiatives.
  4. Include a full range of protection levels.
  5. Take a precautionary approach.

Status: Complete

Network Objectives

Well-developed bioregional objectives will play an important role in achieving the vision for a network of marine protected areas in the Northern Shelf. Nesting under each of the six network goals, the network objectives identify and focus management priorities, provide a context for resolving issues, a rationale for decisions and a means for assessing network effectiveness. Like goals, objectives describe a desired future state for a particular value. They are, however, more specific and concrete than goals.

The objectives, along with the vision and goals, lay the foundation for network planning, and were developed with the scale of the network in mind. The objectives for the network will inform objective development for individual marine protected areas. Consistent with the Strategy, objectives that nest under Goal 1 are of primary importance in network design.

Network objectives were developed by the Marine Protected Area Technical Team (MPATT) with input from other governments, stakeholders, academics and practitioners.


1.1 Contribute to the conservation of the diversity of species, populations, and ecological communities, and their viability in changing environments.
1.2 Protect natural trophic structures and food webs, including populations of upper-level predators, key forage species, nutrient importing and exporting species, and structure-providing species.
1.3 Conserve areas of high biological diversity (species, habitat and genetic diversity).
1.4 Protect representative areas of every marine habitat in the bioregion.[1]
1.5 Contribute to protection of rare, unique, threatened, and/or endangered species and their habitats.
1.6 Conserve ecologically significant areas associated with geological features and enduring/recurring oceanographic features.
1.7 Contribute to conservation of areas important for the life history of resident and migratory species.


2.1 Maintain or improve stock stability and productivity of species important for commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries.
2.2 Maintain within protected areas the natural size and age structure of fished populations.
2.3 Conserve habitat important to ensuring that the productive capacity and harvestable biomass of commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries species are maintained within healthy and resilient ecological limits.


3.1 Conserve sites compatible with, and of high value for sustainable tourism and recreation.


4.1 Enable economic development opportunities that are compatible with achievement of conservation objectives contained with Goal 1.
4.2 Maintain or enhance the long-term productivity, resilience and reliability of marine ecosystem goods and services.
4.3 Support opportunities for local communities to benefit socially, culturally and economically from marine protected areas.
4.4 Strengthen participation and representation of communities and stakeholders in design, establishment and monitoring of the network.
4.5 Ensure that all marine protected areas have clearly defined objectives and effective and adaptive management including monitoring, evaluation and reporting.
4.6 Support effective MPA network governance that includes monitoring, evaluation and reporting.
4.7 Establish collaborative approaches to surveillance and compliance monitoring.


5.1 Increase awareness and understanding of First Nations use and stewardship of resources and territories.
5.2 Represent marine areas of high cultural or historical value.
5.3 Contribute to conservation of species significant to First Nations and coastal communities including those important for cultural use and food security.


6.1 Increase awareness, understanding and stewardship of the marine environment.
6.2 Protect reference sites to support research and management.
6.3 Monitor and report on effectiveness of management actions across the network.

[1] Specific representation targets, design strategies, and scales will be further defined, taking into consideration national and international best practices and commitments (e.g., Aichi Target 11).

Status: Complete

Identify Conservation Priorities & Design Strategies

Conservation Priorities

Conservation priorities are the features to be protected in an MPA network and can be ecological (e.g., ecologically significant species, habitats or areas) or cultural (e.g., species or sites of cultural significance). Conservation priorities can also include features important for sustainable tourism and recreation (e.g., kayak routes or campsites). Conservation priorities are developed from and contribute to network objectives. For example, conservation priorities may be identified for each network objective, as appropriate, and may support more than one objective under multiple goals. Conservation priorities focus planning and management measures by identifying and spatially delineating the specific features that need to be conserved in order to meet the network’s goals and objectives. By focusing spatial planning towards areas of high conservation value (e.g., areas where multiple conservation priorities overlap), the benefits of the MPA network can be maximized.

First Nations cultural conservation priorities refer to the cultural and spiritual values and associated spatial features to be protected in an MPA network. These conservation priorities are intended to protect First Nations’ food security, cultural sites and traditional practices. Traditional knowledge and extensive spatial datasets were consulted and analyzed using multiple criteria to create this data layer for inclusion in the network’s design process. Cultural conservation priorities identified by participating First Nations could be areas important for harvesting, important for culturally significant species, as well as important for culture and spirituality.

Status: Complete

Design Guidelines

Design guidelines provide guidance on the application and implementation of the principles outlined in the Strategy. Expert advice informed the development of design guidelines. The design guidelines complement the network objectives. While the network objectives focus on the desired future state of a conservation priority, the design guidelines address the process of creating the network itself. Design guidelines consider ecological, socio-economic and cultural factors in the overall design of the network to influence where MPAs are located, and how they are selected, refined, and zoned to achieve the principles.

Status: Complete

Design Strategies

Design strategies describe how the conservation priorities will be protected within the network, and include area-based targets for conservation priorities. Targets are quantitative estimates of how much of each feature (e.g., habitat types or species) should be included in the Northern Shelf MPA network. The design strategies operationalize the design guidelines, in particular those that inform representation (targets) and replication of conservation priorities and the size, spacing and protection levels of proposed marine protected areas. Examples of design strategies could be to protect a certain percentage of the area covered by a habitat type (e.g., mudflats); to include a certain number of replicates of a specific habitat in the network; or to protect a proportion of a conservation priority’s distribution (e.g., X % of distribution of species A).

Status: Complete

Compile, Verify & Map Data

Significant effort has been made to compile the best available ecological, cultural and human use data. Data have been verified in consultation with scientists, independent experts, stakeholders and communities.

New spatial datasets will be incorporated to inform adaptive management over time.

Data sets includes fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants, seabirds, physical features and human use data such as archaeology, cultural, aquaculture, fisheries, marine infrastructure, marine pollution, renewable energy, mining, oil, gas, minerals, public recreation, tourism, shipping and transportation. About 180 layers of geospatial information are publicly available through the MPA network SeaSketch Portal.

Status: Complete

Review Existing Conservation Areas

There is a need to assess how well existing MPAs and other conservation measures are protecting conservation priorities. Existing MPAs and other conservation measures vary greatly in purpose, size, protection level, and ecological composition. A “conservation gap analysis” was developed to determine where ecological conservation priorities are present in existing conservation areas and assess the degree to which these areas provide meaningful protection.

The conservation gap analysis helps inform where:

  • Higher levels of protection may be needed to better protect the conservation priorities found within;
  • Boundaries may need to be adjusted to better capture features of interest; and
  • New marine protected areas and other conservation measures might be needed to achieve network objectives.

Status: Complete

Identify Potential New Areas & Design Draft Scenario

Identify Potential New Areas

Once the contribution of existing MPAs and other conservation measures to protecting conservation priorities is understood, Marxan, a decision support tool, will be used to help identify areas of high ecological and cultural conservation value not already captured in existing MPAs, as well as areas of high economic importance.

By combining areas of high ecological and cultural value with areas of high economic importance, Marxan can highlight hotspots that can then be configured and combined into a network scenario. These hotspots meet quantitative targets set for conservation priorities while largely avoiding areas of highest human use.

As with any tool, Marxan is limited by the data that is fed into it. While data is available for many of the priority ecological conservation priorities and human uses in B.C.’s Northern Shelf, there are some limitations. For example, spatial data are unavailable for some ecological conservation priorities in the small inlets and fjords that dot the northern coast. These data limitations make it important to engage stakeholders and communities in the process to identify areas of high ecological and economic value not picked up in Marxan. In addition, Marxan is not able to address all aspects of the network design and so a variety of additional analyses need to be completed. These include analyses on such features as connectivity and resiliency to climate change.

Status: Complete

Design Draft Network Scenario(s)

Informed by all previous stages of the planning process, network scenarios are potential configurations of sites that work together to achieve network objectives. The MPAs that make up the network will not all be created equally. Some will have high levels of protection while others will allow for a range of uses. The network scenario is being designed to build on existing sites to the greatest extent possible. The boundaries of existing conservation measures may be refined and protection levels modified to meet network objectives, while new sites with recommended protection levels may be suggested to meet the same.

The management measures proposed for network sites will consider the spatial and non-spatial management measures already in place, existing uses and, where possible, potential future uses, and the nature of the interactions between uses and conservation priorities. Those who use and enjoy the marine environment – stakeholders, coastal communities and the public at large – will also inform recommendations for management in the MPA Action Plan.

Boundaries and recommended management measures may be adjusted further when individual sites are implemented, subject to further analysis and in consultation with First Nations and engagement with stakeholders. Existing management measures will also need to be taken into consideration at this stage in the planning process.

Status: Complete

Evaluate & Refine Network Scenario(s)

The development of an MPA network in the Northern Shelf Bioregion involves making complex trade-offs to balance multiple objectives under considerable uncertainty. A structured analytic approach is being followed to identify, assess and refine versions of the network scenario to determine which design best achieves the network’s objectives.

A preliminary set of ecological, cultural, social, and economic performance metrics will be applied to:

  • help characterize anticipated consequences of different scenarios
  • help expose key trade-offs and assist in the identification of improved scenarios
  • help communicate the rationale for a decision and improve transparency

The description of potential benefits and impacts of different draft scenarios will rely upon preliminary performance measures and input from First Nations, experts and stakeholders during the review period. This evaluation process will help support revisions to improve the performance of the draft network scenario and better meet the network goals. To date, the preliminary performance measures are a work in progress that have been drafted with initial input and feedback from members of the Science Advisory Committee, the five advisory committees, and will be further refined based on input received on the draft network scenario.

In February 2019, the governing partners generated a preliminary network scenario and assessed it against the design strategies and performance measures. Between March 2019 and January 2020, some First Nations and members of the advisory committees reviewed and provided input on this draft network scenario. This review is currently being considered by the governing partners to help strengthen understanding of potential impacts and benefits of the draft scenario.

At this point, the boundaries and proposed management measures for sites in the draft network scenario are preliminary. The refinement of the network scenario is an adaptive, flexible, iterative process that may include multiple rounds of evaluation, consultation and revision before leading to the MPA Network Committee’s final recommendation on the network design.

Additional opportunities will be provided to First Nations, stakeholders and the public to provide additional feedback on suggested changes to design scenarios. There will be ongoing meetings with First Nations governments to discuss potential areas within their territories. Further engagement with the advisory committees is ongoing throughout 2020, with anticipated public engagement in early 2021.

Status: Ongoing

Develop Action Plan & Designate Sites on Priority Basis

Develop Action Plan

By 2020, the governing partners expect to have a Northern Shelf MPA network design and Network Action Plan that provides the blueprint for the network’s implementation, monitoring and management recommendations. The Network Action Plan is anticipated to include: a description of each network site, recommendations for responsible authorities; site-specific considerations; and recommendations for the order in which MPAs should be designated, if applicable.

Status: Not started

Designate Sites on Priority Basis

All of the governing partners are responsible for implementation of the Network Action Plan consistent with their respective legal framework, priorities and timelines. Implementation will occur over time, and on a priority basis, as the sites identified in the Action Plan are advanced by different authorities. Implementation is expected to take several years, and will involve in-depth, site-level consultation with First Nations, coastal communities and stakeholders to confirm boundaries and regulations, and conduct socio-economic analyses. Site-level consultations for network sites may lead to boundary refinements and recommended management measures.

Management plans, or equivalent mechanisms, to identify what types of activities and uses are permitted within new MPAs will be developed over time and will include information about the responsible agency’s approach to effectiveness monitoring, and compliance and enforcement. Depending on what types of management tools are needed to achieve site-level and network objectives, some areas may have more than one responsible agency involved.

Status: Not started

Manage & Monitor

As part of future implementation, the governing partners will work together to monitor the effectiveness of the MPA network in achieving stated goals and objectives. The potential benefits of MPAs (e.g., increased species diversity and abundance, spillover effects) as well as potential costs will be monitored, as resources allow. Results from long-term monitoring would provide a report card on how various facets of the network are performing.

Status: Not started

MPA Network of the Northern Shelf Bioregion is a collaborative partnership between the Government of Canada, the Province of BC and many First Nations

MPA Network Government of Canada Province of BC Haida-Nation Coastal First Nations Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance Nanwakolas Counsil North Coast-Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society

Signatory First Nations

Gitxaala Nation, Metlakatla First Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Nuxalk First Nation, Wuikinuxv First Nation, Mamalilikulla Nation, Tlowitsis Nation, Da'naxda'xw Awetlala First Nation, Wei Wai Kum First Nation, and K'ómoks First Nation