Planning Process

Photo by Barb Dinning

Interested in sharing your voice and being a part of our mission to protect, prosper and preserve the Northern Shelf? 
Take the Survey

Survey Here

History of Network Planning in the Northern Shelf Bioregion



    National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas



    Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area Plan Endorsed



    First Reconciliation Framework Agreement for Bioregional Oceans Management and Protection (Oceans RFA) Signed



    First Draft Network Scenario Released for Stakeholder Review

  • #COVID


    Collation and Review of Initial Input

  • Winter


    Partner Workshops

  • Spring


    Stakeholder Technical Input



    Network Action Plan Drafted

  • Fall


    Public Engagement

  • February


    Partner Endorsement of the Network Action Plan



    Site Establishment begins


(includes MPA Network related and OTHER INTIATIVES)

There are many previous initiatives that contribute to planning and implementing a successful MPA network in the Northern Shelf Bioregion.

The Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) is one of five national large ocean management areas identified in Canada’s 2005 Oceans Action Plan. In 2017, the collaboratively developed PNCIMA Plan was finalized, providing strategic direction on integrated, ecosystem-based and adaptive management of marine activities and resources in the area.

The Marine Plan Partnership initiative (MaPP) is a partnership between the Province of British Columbia and many First Nations that developed marine use plans for B.C.’s North Pacific Coast.

National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas
The National Framework for Canada’s Network of Marine Protected Areas (National Framework) provides strategic direction for the development of a national network of MPAs.

Canada BC MPA Network Strategy
Working in partnership, federal and provincial agencies completed the Canada-British Columbia Marine Protected Area Network Strategy in 2014.

First Nations Marine Planning

Central Coast
The Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk and Wuikinuxv Nations have each developed territory-scale marine use plans that address their Nations’ values and community-level planning priorities. These territory-specific marine use plans are developed at a finer scale and include issues such as jurisdiction, resource management, economic development and capacity.

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site
In 2010, the Gwaii Haanas Marine Agreement was signed, expanding the role of the Archipelago Management Board to include management of the Gwaii Haanas marine area. Through the AMB, the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada recently announced the completion of the Gwaii Haanas Gina ‘Waadluxan KilGulGa Land-Sea-People Management Plan (2018).

Council of the Haida Nation-British Columbia Protected Areas
The 2007 Haida Gwaii Strategic Land Use Agreement identified new protected areas for ecological and cultural conservation, spiritual and recreational purposes. These areas were jointly designated under Haida law as “Heritage Sites” and under provincial legislation as “Conservancies.”

North Coast
Some North Coast Nations began community-based marine planning in 2006. The Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Haisla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum and Metlakatla First Nations have each completed and approved community-level strategic marine use plans, providing strategic direction regarding the management, use and protection of each Nation’s traditional territories.

The Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Haisla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum and Metlakatla First Nations then collaborated on sub-regional (North Coast) level planning. First Nations’ community marine use plans have informed the development of the MaPP North Coast Marine Plan.

North Vancouver Island
The Nanwakolas member First Nations completed draft marine plans that contain important background information, protocols and key policies and strategies for marine resource management and marine uses, including spatial zoning designations.

These plans were aggregated into a sub-regional Ha-ma-yas Marine Plan, endorsed by the Nanwakolas Chief’s Board in October 2012 and are part of ongoing technical planning with the provincial government.

  • Value and acknowledge others’ contributions to improving outcomes
  • Actively listen to, document, understand and respond to needs of others
  • Conduct engagement activities in a manner that fosters mutual respect and trust
  • Provide timely responses to questions/requests for information, enabling a broad understanding of data sources, data quality, data analysis and decision-making tools
  • Provide information in a timely manner to ensure meaningful participation
  • Act with honour and integrity, respecting Indigenous rights and title
  • Seek to engage with individuals, organizations and communities that represent the full diversity of those who have an interest in the MPA network
  • Use relevant, existing advisory committees to solicit feedback, where possible
  • Use levels and methods of engagement that suit the audience being consulted and the scale and complexity of the issue
  • Foster an environment that encourages the sharing of ideas
  • Clearly communicate clearly the purpose, goals, accountabilities, expectations and constraints of the process
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities for all involved in MPA network planning and implementation
  • Provide information to help ensure meaningful participation in the process
  • All participants share accountability for the success of the process
  • The governments will respond to all advice and input received, explaining how feedback was considered
  • Use levels and methods of engagement that suit the group being consulted and the scale and complexity of the issue
  • Set realistic timelines for the level of engagement appropriate to the situation
  • Ensure that the technical elements of the process are communicated in a way that is accessible to the audience being engaged
  • Ensure that there are multiple means and opportunities for others to engage in the process across the bioregion
  • Consider any restrictions to participation and work to overcome barriers, where possible
  • Provide clarity on how knowledge will be incorporated into network planning in a way that respects confidentiality concerns
  • Consider the results of monitoring and evaluation, including feedback from stakeholders and local government, and make adjustments, where feasible
  • Wherever possible, identify linkages with other marine planning processes


Establishing an MPA Network is no small task. There is a lot to consider, a lot of people involved and many people who have yet to be heard.

There are several First Nations whose traditional territories cover areas within the Northern Shelf but are not currently partners in the process, or who have not otherwise been able to contribute to planning in their territories. The planning process will have to be adaptable and find ways to work with those communities at specific stages, as and when they are ready to do so.

Stakeholders and local governments have and will engage in the planning process primarily through advisory committees. Terms of Reference for the committees describe how membership is determined, as well as roles and responsibilities of committee members and the Marine Protected Areas Technical Team (MPATT) chairs. An Engagement Strategy outlines other approaches and tools that are used to engage stakeholders and local governments.

And, of course, a Science Advisory Committee has been established to provide scientific and technical guidance and feedback to assist with the development of the MPA network.

That said, the process can be broadly broken down into seven stages:

STAGE ONE: Define Goals, Objectives & Planning Principles


Defined Goals

Network planning in the Northern Shelf is guided by six goals:

Primary Goal:

    • To protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features.

Additional Goals:

    • To contribute to the conservation and protection of fishery resources and their habitats.
    • To maintain and facilitate opportunities for tourism and recreation.
    • To contribute to social, community and economic certainty and stability.
    • To conserve and protect traditional use, cultural heritage and archaeological resources.
    • To provide opportunities for scientific research, education and awareness

Planning Principles

The suite of 16 guiding principles, identified in the Canada-B.C. MPA network Strategy, will guide site selection and shape the network planning process.

These principles are separated into three categories:


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


    • Recognize and consider the full range of uses activities and values supported by marine environments.
    • Maximize the positive.
    • Minimize the negative.
    • Enhance management effectiveness and compliance to maximize benefits and minimize costs.
    • Work with people.
    • Respect First Nations’ treaties, title, rights, aspirations and worldview.


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

Network Objectives

Network objectives fall under the goals, and are used to identify and focus management priorities, provide context for resolving issues, a rationale for decisions and a means for assessing network effectiveness.

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

Network Objectives Goal 1: To protect and maintain marine biodiversity, ecological representation and special natural features.


    • Contribute to conserving the diversity of species, populations, and ecological communities, and their survival in changing environments.
    • Protect natural levels and interconnection of food chains.
    • Conserve areas of high biodiversity (including species, habitat and genetic diversity).
    • Protect representative areas of every marine habitat in the bioregion.
    • Contribute to protection of rare, unique, threatened, and/or endangered species and their habitats.
    • Conserve ecologically significant areas associated with geological features and enduring/recurring oceanographic features.
    • Contribute to conservation of areas important for the life history of resident and migratory species.

GOAL 2: Network Objectives

    • Maintain or improve stock stability and productivity of species important for commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries.
    • Maintain the natural size and differing ages of fished populations within protected areas.
    • 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.

GOAL 3: Network Objectives

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

GOAL 4: Network Objectives

    • Enable economic development opportunities that work with conservation objectives
    • Maintain or enhance the long-term productivity, resilience and reliability of marine ecosystem goods and services.
    • Support opportunities for local communities to benefit socially, culturally and economically from marine protected areas.
    • Strengthen participation and representation of communities and stakeholders in design, establishment and monitoring of the network.
    • Ensure that all marine protected areas have clearly defined objectives, as well as effective, adaptive management.
    • Support effective MPA network governance that includes monitoring, evaluation and reporting.
    • Establish collaborative approaches to surveillance and compliance monitoring.

GOAL 5: Network Objectives

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

GOAL 6: Network Objectives

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

NOTE: Specific representation targets, design strategies, and scales will be further defined, taking into consideration national and international best practices and commitments.

STAGE TWO: Identify Conservation Priorities & Design Strategies


Conservation Priorities

Conservation priorities are the features to be protected in an MPA network.


They can be ecological (e.g., significant species, habitats or areas), cultural (e.g., species or sites of cultural significance), or include features important for sustainable tourism and recreation (e.g., kayak routes or campsites).


Conservation priorities support both the objectives and the goals by focusing planning and management on specific features that need to be conserved the most.


First Nations Cultural Conservation Priorities

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:

    • Protect First Nations’ food security
    • Protect cultural sites
    • Protect traditional practices.


Design Guidelines

Design guidelines provide guidance on the application and implementation of the principles outlined in the Strategy.


The design guidelines address the process of creating the network itself by:


    • Considering ecological factors
    • Considering socio-economic factors
    • Considering cultural factors


Design guidelines influence where MPAs are located, and how they are selected, refined, and zoned to achieve the principles.


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 estimates of how much of each feature (e.g., habitat types or species) should be included in the Northern Shelf MPA network.


This might include:

    • Protecting a certain percentage of the area covered by a habitat type (e.g., mudflats)
    • Including a certain number of versions of a specific habitat in the network
    • Protecting a proportion of a conservation priority’s distribution (e.g., X % of distribution of species A).

STAGE THREE: 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.


Data sets include:

    • Fish
    • Invertebrates
    • Mammals
    • Plants
    • Seabirds
    • Physical features; and
    • human use data (i.e., 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.


STAGE FOUR: Review Existing Conservation Areas

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 network conservation priorities are present in existing conservation areas and to assess how well they are can contribute to network objectives, through the management of that site.

The conservation gap analysis helps inform where:

    • Higher levels of protection may be needed
    • 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.

STAGE FIVE: 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, analysis can highlight hotspots that meet our conservation priorities’ targets while largely avoiding areas of highest human use.


Design Draft Network Scenario(s)

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.


STAGE SIX: 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 approach is being followed to identify, assess and refine versions of the network scenario to determine which design will work best


STAGE SEVEN: Develop Action Plan & Designate Sites


Develop Action Plan

The Network Action Plan provides the blueprint to guide network implementation, monitoring and management.


The Network Action Plan will include:

    • A description of the proposed network design, including recommended sites and zones, conservation objectives, and tools to protect each network site
    • Identification of human activities in each site and zone; and
    • Recommendations for timelines for network sites to be designated.


Designate Sites

All 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 based on the recommended timelines in the Action Plan.


Implementation is expected to take several years, and will involve in-depth, site-level consultation with First Nations, coastal communities, stakeholders, and the public to confirm boundaries and regulations, develop management measures, and conduct detailed socio-economic analyses before a site is designated.


STAGE EIGHT: Manage & Monitor


As part of future steps to designate sites in the network, the partners will work together to monitor how effective the MPA network is in achieving the stated goals and objectives.


The potential benefits of MPAs as well as potential costs will be monitored, and results from long-term monitoring will provide a report card on how the network is performing.


Engagement Approach

Stakeholder engagement will take place at both regional and sub-regional scales within the NSB. While the NSB MPA network is being developed at the bioregional scale, the incorporation of both regional and local perspectives and knowledge will be critical to the network design process.

Bioregional engagement will operate on a large scale, using various approaches, including a bioregional marine advisory committee (MAC), regional forums, and bilateral meetings with stakeholders  and local governments. It is expected that regional input will be especially valuable on “big picture”, strategic, bioregional issues relating to: replication, connectivity, conservation, and cumulative socio-economic impacts and/or impacts of coast-wide economic activities.

Local perspectives and knowledge from marine communities in the North Coast, Central Coast, Haida Gwaii, and North Vancouver Island sub-regions will be integrated into the planning process through various mechanisms including meetings of sub-regional MACs. Targeted engagement with relevant sectors or interests regarding specific issues and data at sub-regional scales may also be required. It is expected that sub-regional engagement will be valuable for its focus on issues of adjacency, providing opportunities to inform design guidelines, conservation priorities, ground-truthing and data gaps, and to refine proposed boundaries of design scenarios.

The scope of information brought before the bioregional and sub-regional MACs may be very similar; however, it is expected that different perspectives and types of knowledge will come from each committee.

Multiple marine initiatives will be taking place in the NSB over the next few years, including:

  • MPA network planning
  • PNCIMA plan implementation
  • MaPP plan implementation
  • Other sub-regional initiatives

Most of these initiatives are a collaboration of two or more of the NSB MPA governance partners and each process requires some level of ongoing engagement with stakeholders and other governments. The extent and nature of that engagement will be determined by decisions and commitments made by the partner agencies associated with each initiative.

In order to make the best use of everyone’s time and resources, and to build awareness of the interconnectedness of these initiatives, efforts will be made to co-ordinate engagement amongst these initiatives. To the extent possible, network governance partners will seek to co-ordinate timing of meetings across these initiatives to make things more convenient and efficient for stakeholders and staff.

Engagement Mechanisms

The following engagement mechanisms will be used at various stages of the network planning process.

Advisory Committees

Stakeholders and local governments have an advisory role in the planning process. A Bioregional Ocean  Advisory Committee has been established to provide input and advice to the MPA network governance partners on key elements of the planning process. Advisory committees have also been established for each of the four sub-regions within the Northern Shelf: Haida Gwaii, North Coast, Central Coast and North Vancouver Island. The advisory committees include broad representation from all interested sectors, supporting inter-sectoral dialogue and building shared understanding on MPA network planning. Terms of Reference have been developed for the advisory committees. Learn more about the advisory committees.

Bioregional Forums

Bioregional forums will be held during key phases of the planning process to communicate with relevant stakeholders and local governments collectively and to provide opportunities for participants from different parts of the bioregion to exchange diverse interests and ideas. These forums may be multi-day events in which stakeholders, local governments, partners and/or interested parties will have the opportunity to meet and discuss information, provide advice and input to MPATT, and build working relationships. Facilitators may be used to help guide forum agendas, ensure objectives are clear and outcomes accomplished and document the results. Activities may include presentations, break-out sessions, Q&As, and/or information collection, as appropriate.


Engagement opportunities are scheduled at key junctures according to the tasks and requirements associated with each step of the planning process. Briefings will provide additional opportunities to collectively discuss planning progress and address questions, concerns and/or provide additional feedback. They may include interactive dialogue facilitated by the partners using webinars or conference calls and will complement targeted emails and updates on the network website. The briefings will be facilitated by the MPATT co-chairs and scheduled as needed.

Bilateral Meetings

Bilateral meetings may be held with First Nations, individual stakeholder grouops or local governments at key junctures of the planning process. These meetings will occur throughout key planning stages as necessary.

Online Response Forms

Online response forms may be used in the event that additional input is required from stakeholders or members of the public who are unable to participate in a meeting or other engagement mechanisms, and when written review and response may be a more effective means of providing and/or receiving input.


Webinars may be used periodically in the planning process to share information with bioregional and sub-regional stakeholders and local governments. Documents to support information being profiled in a webinar will be sent out in advance, when possible, and there will be time for participants to comment on content and provide input following the online meeting.


SeaSketch is a collaborative marine planning tool that allows users to view data layers and draft network design scenarios. Users will be able to adjust boundaries of candidate sistes based on their own knowledge of and interest in the planning area. Learn more about SeaSketch.

Engagement Opportunities

There are multiple opportunities for engagement during each stage of the MPA network planning process, taking place at different scales in the bioregion, and drawing on various mechanisms to allow for input. All timelines are subject to change.

Upcoming engagement opportunities will be listed here.

Introducing the Northern Shelf Bioregion MPA Network Ecosystems

The Government of Canada, the Province of British Columbia and many First Nations are working together to develop a Marine Protected Area network in the Northern Shelf, which extends from the top of Vancouver Island (Quadra Island / Bute Inlet) and reaches north to the Canada – Alaska border.

The Northern Shelf is unique due to its diverse ocean ecosystems, which provide important habitat for a range of species. The Northern Shelf is characterized by adjacent rugged coastal mountains and steep valleys reflecting glacial scouring processes, abundant offshore islands, rocky shorelines with few sand and gravel beaches and extensive, deep fjords.

The Northern Shelf also contributes an abundance of marine resources to coastal economies and communities. A wide variety of year-round and seasonal activities occur in the marine offshore and coastal near-shore areas. In the near-shore, activities include traditional fishing and food gathering, aquaculture and ecotourism, as well as infrastructure associated with marine transportation, communications and community uses.

Protection of the marine environment is of paramount importance for coastal residents. For millenia, the diversity of life supported by coastal and marine environments has allowed complex and culturally rich societies to develop. In particular, First Nations communities have a distinct cultural and spiritual heritage and present-day practices that are intricately linked to the marine environment. This reflects their longstanding governance systems that include stewardship of marine resources for sustainable use.

The Northern Shelf Marine Protected Area Network planning process aims to build a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) that will help to ensure that future generations will inherit the beauty and productivity of our Pacific Ocean.

The success of conserving and protecting special marine areas is a shared responsibility. We look forward to hearing from all coastal residents that have an interest in the Northern Shelf and its future, to complete a network of MPAs for the Pacific Coast of Canada.

First Nations Knowledge

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

Partner First Nations

Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Haisla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Metlakatla, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo Xai’xais, Nuxalk, Wuikinuxv, Mamalilikulla, Kwiakah, Tlowitsis, and Wei Wai Kum First Nations; and the Council of the Haida Nation.