It was a quiet morning in the small coastal fishing town. The sun crept over up over the horizon, under cover of the clouds, like it had been out on the town all night and only just noticed the time. The stillness was broken only by the cry of seagulls and rumble and clanking of the ferry docking. I finished my twelfth cup of coffee of the night and stared groggily at the brown envelope bearing my name (Inspector C. Storm), the contents of which were now spilled across my desk like a purse-full of herring on the deck of a seiner.
The tinny melody of the radio echoed in my head, as I tried to piece together the facts of the case. Fact 1: there were 11 different types of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on the BC coast, ranging from recreational areas to ecological reserves. Fact 2: many of these areas were intended to be completely closed to harvesting of marine life, including fish. Fact 3: protected areas closed to fishing in many other parts of the world helped fish stocks to recover and produced more and larger fish. Finally, fact 4, which I had scribbled on a scrap of paper in coloured pencil:
You see, despite the many different names for protected areas, they could mostly be lumped into a few major categories based on the reasons they were set up. Categories created by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a prestigious group of big-wigs who work to improve conservation around the world. Over half of the protected areas on coast fell into categories that were 'strictly prohibited' to fishing. A handful of others allowed a wide range of activities, including fishing. The rest simply didn't fall into any of these categories.
But despite being 'strictly prohibited' in over half of these areas, fishing was permitted in all but one. It made about as much sense as a lead-plated life jacket! Why have a protected area if it didn't offer any protection? It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to set up an area like this if it were going be nothing more than a line on a map.
At the center of this mess was the fact that the brass who managed the protected areas were not the same ones who managed the fisheries. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) dictate where boats can and cannot fish through their Integrated Fisheries Management Plans. From the looks of things, these plans and the marine protected areas were about as coordinated as a blind saxophone player and a deaf conductor.
Could it really be that simple? Could lack of coordination amongst government agencies really be the culprit in the case of the missing marine protection on the BC coast?
Inspector C. Storm is on special assignment for the Living Oceans Society. Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion of The Case of the Missing Marine Protection, or see the evidence for yourself (PDF file).