The federal government announced protection for the rare ancient glass sponge reefs found on the North Coast of B.C.

The federal government announced protection for the rare ancient glass sponge reefs found on the North Coast of B.C.

Fishing closures for Glass Sponge Reefs on the North Coast

A 9,000-year-old glass sponge reef ecosystem in the North Coast was recently announced as a protected area by the federal government.

A 9,000-year-old glass sponge reef ecosystem in the North Coast was recently announced as a protected area by the federal government.

The area, known as the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (MPA), covers 2,410 km-squared.

The aquatic territory represents ocean along the Pacific North Coast, southeast of Haida Gwaii and between the northern and southern entrance to Douglas Channel.

Among the many marine benefits the (once thought extinct) reefs from the Jurassic Period provide water filtration, as well as serving as refuge, habitat and nursery grounds for aquatic species, including rockfish, finfish and shellfish species, as detailed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in a press release.

The largest sponge reef in Hecate Strait (four total in the area), covers an area 35km long by 15km wide and 25 metres tall. A reef found in Chatham Sound is 12km long and three km wide. The reef structures are extremely fragile and take up to several hundred years to recover from damage.

The area is intended to be just one part of a growing network of MPAs throughout Canada to serve as a globally unique conservation target, and part of the federal government’s commitment to protect five per cent of marine and coastal areas by the end of 2017.

The reefs were partly brought to the forefront by research conducted by Spectra Energy for its Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project. As well, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has been seeking protection for the reefs for years.

The David Suzuki Foundation applauded the announcement.

“The sponge reefs, that cover roughly the same area as the Lower Mainland, are globally unique and their contribution to overall ocean health and fisheries is only beginning to be understood. This MPA not only safeguards the sponge reefs but also fisheries that are inextricably linked to a healthy ecosystem,” said foundation senior research scientist Scott Wallace.

The conservation measure effectively bans some human activities, such as commercial fishing, which has prompted the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters’ Federation to speak against the measure that prevents groundfish trawling, longlining or any kind of fishing in an area that is rich with crab, prawn, shrimp, hake and halibut.

“We totally support protecting the glass sponge reefs and have for years but Department of Fisheries and Oceans has completely ignored our advice after seven years of consultation. A sustainable fishery and good jobs can easily co-exist with an MPA that continues to allow fishing in this very important part of the B.C. coast,” said Jim McIsaac, vice-president of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters’ Federation Pacific.

DFO Media Relations’ Carole Saindon said that the measures have been put in place based on peer-reviewed science and public input for a multi-zoned approach.

“The Core Protection Zone (CPZ) contains the sponge reefs, seabed and subsoil as well as the water column from the seabed to a minimum of 40 metres from the highest point of each reef,” she said, describing a tri-zoning approach.

“In order to protect the sponge reefs, additional fisheries management measures within the MPA boundary prohibit the use of mobile bottom-contacting fishing gear in the adaptive management zones,” Saindon stated.

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc noted that many interested parties, including Aboriginal groups were involved in the new designation.

“These ancient reefs highlight the importance of preserving the globally unique and ecologically important treasure in our Canadian oceans,” LeBlanc said.

Prince Rupert impact

North Coast fishermen Glen Kierce and Peter Haugan reacted to the news last week.

Kierce, who runs Deep Sea Charters, said that fishermen are used to closures such as the Glass Sponge Reef MPA, but the ban may extend to places it need not to.

“Everybody’s always concerned when they start implementing closures like this and it affects where a person can fish,” Kierce said.

“There’s a wide spread of [different fishing methods]. Like some guys – a small percentage are trawling and some are longliners. I don’t know the percentage, but there’s all different user groups that would hit those areas … I encourage the protection of the sponge reefs, but like I say, do they need to go that wide on the closure area? You could probably downsize it a bit, right?” Kierce said.

Haugan added that he isn’t so much affected but he’s concerned for the potential money lost by his colleagues on the water.

“[A ban] doesn’t affect me but it sure affects my fellow fishermen. They have been trawling Hecate Strait for 100 years and there’s more fish than they’ve ever had and now we’ve got no boats anymore and we’re on quota,” Haugan said.

“I don’t see the rationale behind this because the boats don’t go and fish in the sponge reefs, because that’s not where they’re going to get their fish. The nets aren’t going to be clean fishing in an area like that. I don’t know, I just think if you can stop everything you might as well stop us riding down the road. We might kill a beetle.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dreamfish are hung on the fence at Annunication School in Prince Rupert on April 17 as part of the Stream of Dream eco-education program teaching about local watersheds and salmon habitats. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Stream of Dreams fish swim the fence at Prince Rupert School

Students at Annunciation school learned about watershed protection and salmon habitat

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

BC CDC mapping for the week ending April 4, shows a sharp decrease in COVID-19 cases to 27 in Prince Rupert down 45 from the week prior. (Image: BCCDC)
Sharp decline in Prince Rupert COVID-19 cases

Prince Rupert lab-confirmed cases are down 62.5 per cent in one week

Blair Mirau, Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’a Society CEO, is seen in a hydroponic greenhouse the society purchased in 2020 to promote food stability and local supply. (Photo: supplied)
Three P.R. organizations partner to develop food distribution network

$167,000 grant awarded to GSN, PRDCC and Ecotrust Canada to strengthen food supply chains

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

(Bandstra Transportation photo)
Smithers family-owned business institution sold to publicly-traded company

Bandstra Transportation and Babine Trucking acquired by Mullen Group

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson is photographed following her budget speech in the legislative assembly at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. budget lacks innovative drive, vision during uncertain times, say experts

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s budget sets out to spend $8.7 billion over three years on infrastructure

Using panels kept cold by water circulating within them, B.C. researchers compared thermal comfort in 60 of the world’s most populous cities, including Toronto. (Lea Ruefenacht)
B.C. researchers use air conditioning to combat spread of COVID particles

Dr. Adam Rysanek and his team have proven a new worthwhile system – a mixture of cooling panels and natural ventilation

Most Read