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Marine protected areas in Québec

The main objective of the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Québec is to ensure the long-term maintenance of marine biodiversity and key ecological components of the St. Lawrence River.

Québec’s overall marine territory encompasses the St. Lawrence River and the coastal waters of Northern Québec. Plankton and numerous fish and marine mammal species are found in the St. Lawrence River. The Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence are highly contrasted environments with the hottest surface water in Atlantic Canada in the summer and the biggest quantities of sea ice during the winter. The northern portion of the maritime territory spans more than 3 000 km. The repercussions of climate change in these environments occur more rapidly and affect the entire marine ecosystem. Climate change also affects inshore birds and seabirds, especially the deterioration or loss of their specific habitats and the time lag between staging areas and the availability of food.

For this reason, the territories identified to be protected as marine areas were selected by taking into consideration oceanographic and ecological characteristics, as well as the geology of the targeted environments. Each zone is delimited and has its own conservation objectives. The conservation measures and geographic boundaries of the marine protected areas are elaborated in consultation with stakeholders. They can be regulated and managed according to the following Québec designations:

  • marine protected areas designated by ad hoc legislation, such as the St. Lawrence Marine Park;
  • aquatic reserve;
  • wildlife habitats of threatened or vulnerable species.

In the Act to Amend the Natural Heritage Conservation Act and Other Provisions, marine reserve status, which is better adapted to marine environments, would replace aquatic reserve status.

Until the legal status of a marine protected area is established, the designation of a territorial reserve for protected area purposes (TRPAP) marks the first step in protecting marine environments. The TRPAP is a provisional administrative tool, whose protective measures must be enhanced when a marine protected area is created.

The objectives of marine conservation

In response to Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Québec government through its maritime strategy has committed itself to attaining the international target pertaining to the marine environment. The establishment of a representative network of marine protected areas covering at least 10% of the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence has been achieved in collaboration with the government of Canada.

On December 13, 2020, the Québec government announced the official creation of 17 territorial reserves for protected area purposes (TRPAPs) totalling more than 14 000 km2, i.e., six territories in the estuary and 11 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change unveiled the additions to the Québec network of marine protected areas, which now covers 10.4% of the territory.

Canada-Québec collaboration agreement

Almost without exception, all the proposed protected marine areas in Québec are jointly selected, planned, and implemented with the government of Canada under a collaboration agreement (French PDF, 2,2 MB)This hyperlink will open in a new window. in force since March 19, 2018.

The projects are the results of analyses of the biological components of the studied sectors, such as the presence of threatened species, of fragile ecosystems, or of breeding areas, depending on conservation priorities. Moreover, a representativeness analysis was conducted in all sectors of ecological interest in the Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence (PDF, 2,7 MB)This hyperlink will open in a new window.  that are under discussion between the governments of Québec and Canada.

Existing marine protected areas

Existing marine protected areas are included in the Register of Protected Areas in Québec :

  • the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park;
  • the Bonaventure River Estuary aquatic reserve;
  • the proposed Manicouagan aquatic reserve;
  • Banc-des-Américains marine protected area.

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park protects 1 245 km2 of marine territory. It encompasses outstanding ecosystems, more than 1 800 animal and plant species and marine mammals, including the blue whale and the St. Lawrence beluga, which are threatened species. By regulating the activities allowed in the park, the biodiversity is protected there from the seabed to the surface of the water.

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To obtain additional information, please visit the marine park’s websiteThis hyperlink will open in a new window..

The Bonaventure River Estuary aquatic reserve

This aquatic reserve (conservation plan PDF, 450 KB)This hyperlink will open in a new window.) is situated in the Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine regions. It covers an area of 1.8 km2 and spans the estuary formed at the mouth of the Bonaventure River.

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The Bonaventure River estuary includes one of Québec’s 10 estuarial barachois. A barachois is a coastal lagoon partially or fully separated from the ocean by a sandbank or pebbles. Extensive filamentous algae beds, especially hollow green weed, a species highly tolerant of variations in water salinity, are observed in the sector. What is more, species such as Atlantic salmon and rainbow smelt reproduce in the Bonaventure River and migrate through the estuary to the sea, where they grow to maturity. Lastly, some water birds make abundant use of the channel that separates the Îles Arsenault during migration. Canada geese, black ducks, mallards, and green-winged teals are the most abundant species.

The proposed Manicouagan aquatic reserve

The proposed Manicouagan aquatic reserve (conservation plan - PDF, 186 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.) is situated on the north shore of the Lower St. Lawrence Estuary. It encompasses the shoreline along the municipalities of Ragueneau, Chute-aux-Outardes, Pointe-aux-Outardes and Pointe-Lebel. It also adjoins the territory of the Pessamit Reserve and the territory of the municipality of Colombier. It covers an area of roughly 712 km².

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 The proposed aquatic reserve encompasses an array of rich and diverse habitats:

  • the estuaries of the Manicouagan River, the Geese River, and the Betsiamites River;
  • maritime salt marshes, which are the planet’s most productive habitats;
  • sandy tidal flats that shelter capelin spawning grounds;
  • eelgrass beds;
  • islands;
  • seabeds that display abundant biodiversity.

A wide variety of fish and invertebrates are found in the territory, including snow crab, northern shrimp, and Greenland halibut. Capelin, rainbow smelt, and Atlantic herring are some of the species that spawn there. They constitute a significant share of the food resources of birds, fish, and marine mammals, such as whales and seals, which frequent the sector.

Banc-des-Américains marine protected area

The Banc-des-Américains marine protected area is the first proposed joint project covered by the Canada-Québec collaborative agreement to establish a network of marine protected areas in Québec. Since March 2019, an intergovernmental agreement (PDF, 4,6 MBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.) has been in force pertaining to the designation of the Banc-des-Américains joint marine protected area.

As a result, this marine protected area benefits from dual protection status. The proposed aquatic reserve status (conservation plan PDF, 3,2 MB)This hyperlink will open in a new window.) granted according to the NHCA is added to the marine protected area status established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada according to the legislation of Canada.

The Banc-des-Américains marine protected area is situated east of the Gaspé Peninsula in the territory of the Gaspé Municipality to the north and the Percé Municipality to the south. It represents an area of roughly 1 000 km2 and encompasses the shoal of the American Bank.

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The environment is unique in the natural province of the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. This area shows a high biological productivity due to a combination of oceanographic phenomena and a broad range of habitats which favor high nutrient salts inputs and thus the development of phytoplankton.

The Banc-des-Américains marine protected area is characterized by the diversity of benthic fauna living on the seabed, including snow crab, rock crab, Northern lobster, waved whelk, Icelandic scallop, and Northern shrimp. Significant algal biomass, which underpins the food chain in this sector, attracts a wide array of fish species. Species such as Atlantic cod, Greenland halibut, beaked redfish, Atlantic herring, and Atlantic mackerel are abundant.

The sector that the Banc-des-Américains marine protected area targets is also a feeding area or transit zone for several marine mammal species. Lastly, the sector provides abundant food for seabird species such as northern gannets, Atlantic puffins, and razorbills.

Proposed protected marine areas

Several sectors are under study in the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the summer of 2019, the governments presented the two projects covering the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Indigenous groups and relevant stakeholders (Information meeting 2019 - PDF, 3,8 MBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.).

Joint works conducted with the Government of Canada are continuing, as well as procedures related to the joint marine protected area projects announced in June 2019. The next step will be the consultation step, which will allow the elaboration of potential conservation measures and discussions with the Indigenous groups and relevant stakeholders. This step will be followed by a formal consultation of the Indigenous groups and relevant stakeholders, as well as the public, on each of the projects (boundaries of the projects, conservation objectives, and conservation measures).

To comply with its international commitments and attain by late 2020 its target of 10% marine protected areas, the Québec government decided to adopt an administrative action by designating the territorial reserves for protected area purposes (TRPAPs), which marks the first step in the protection of the marine environment. The purpose is to attribute legally protected status pursuant to the Natural Heritage Conservation Act or the Act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife.

Territorial reserves for protected area purposes (TRPAPs)

The Minister of the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks jointly ensure the protection of territorial reserves for protected area purposes (TRPAPs) in marine environments.

The designation of TRPAPs entails the prohibition of any form of activity associated with natural resource exploration and exploitation (mining, gas, and oil), hydrocarbons transportation by gas pipeline and oil pipeline, the exploitation of hydropower, and any commercial or industrial energy production in the territories overall. The presence of TRPAPs is also considered when applications for authorizations and the granting or issuance of rights under the laws of Québec are analyzed. The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources ensures the maintenance of the requisite administrative and legal provisions to prohibit them and adopts the necessary administrative and legal provisions until a decision is reached concerning the attribution of legally protected status for such territories. Moreover, the ministers contribute to ensuring compliance with the key objective of such territories, i.e. the conservation of the marine environment.

On December 13, 2020, the Québec government announced the designation of 17 TRPAPs in the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which correspond to areas that are the subject of joint work under the Canada-Québec collaborative agreement to establish a network of marine protected areas in Québec. The Réserve de territoire aux fins d’aire protégée du Banc-des-Américains was replaced on October 7, 2021 by the Réserve aquatique projetée du Banc-des-Américains.

TRPAP in the St. Lawrence Estuary

Six sectors have been designated TRPAPs in the St. Lawrence estuary and they represent an area of 5 033 km2. The sectors were chosen to protect:

  • vulnerable marine mammal species and their habitats;
  • vulnerable fish species and their habitats;
  • forage species, which are the prey of marine mammals, as well as their habitats;

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Description of TRPAPs
  • Sector of Isle-aux-Grues (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 281 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.): This is a significant biological productivity area where vulnerable fish species such as striped bass, lake sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, and rainbow smelt are found. It occupies a geographic area of 914 km2.
  • Sector of central estuary (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 280 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 1 743 km2 sector is an essential habitat for belugas outside the  St. Lawrence Marine Park. It is also important for the reproduction and growth of several species that belugas eat, such as capelin and Atlantic herring.
  • Sector of Kamouraska (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 280 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 357 km2 sector is important for the reproduction and growth of beluga food sources such as capelin, Atlantic herring and rainbow smelt. It also includes an essential striped bass habitat.
  • Sector of Basques (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 274 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.): This 133 km2 sector encompasses significant areas for the reproduction and growth of capelin and Atlantic herring.
  • Sector of Haute-Côte-Nord (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 285 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 1 569 km2 sector is a feeding area for rorquals since a concentration of krill and species that fin whales eat, such as capelin, Atlantic herring, and American sand launce, are found there.
  • Sector of Matane – Les Méchins (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 81 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 316 km2 sector is being studied since it is blue whale feeding area.
Protective measures in force

The protective measures in force in the TRPAPs, which can be viewed by clicking on the link of each sector, will be completed when they will obtain legally protected status.

To obtain additional information on the joint marine protected area project: https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/canada-quebec-agreement-entente/index-eng.html This hyperlink will open in a new window.

TRPAP in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence

Ten sectors have been designated TRPAPs, covering an area of 8 148 km2. The sectors have been selected to:

  • intensify the protection of cold-water corals and sponges, which are known to be fragile species that recover slowly when disturbed, since, as they grow, many of these species create complex structures that numerous other marine species use for shelter, food, and growth;
  • protect ecosystems that shelter cold-water corals and sponges;
  • promote high biodiversity in the sectors. 

These ten TRPAPs are superimposed to marine refuges of the government of Canada, in which fishing management measures are already in place to ban on bottom-contact fishing gear, i.e. bottom trawl, dredge, bottom seine, traps, bottom longline and gillnet.

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Description of TRPAPs
  • Honguedo-West (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 277 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 496 km2 sector is under study because of its high concentration of three species of sea pens, Pennatula aculeata, Pennatula grandis and Anthoptilum grandiflorum.
  • Honguedo-East (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 274 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):This 2 338 km2 zone provides a habitat for high concentrations of sponges and four species of sea pens, Halipteris finmarchica, Anthoptilum grandiflorum, Pennatula grandis and Pennatula aculeata.
  • Jacques-Cartier (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 274 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):The highest concentration of sponges is found in this sector compared with all the coral and sponge conservation zones established in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence. The area targeted covers 346 km2.
  • Bennett Bank (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 274 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):A high concentration of the sea pen species Anthoptilum grandiflorum is found in this 821 km2 zone.
  • Gulf Centre (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 275 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):The highest known concentration of the sea pen species Anthoptilum grandiflorum in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence is found in this 1 284 km2 zone.
  • Magdalen Shallows Slope (zoomed mapThis hyperlink will open in a new window.protective measures PDF, 274 KBThis hyperlink will open in a new window.):A very high concentration of the Pennatula grandis and Anthoptilum grandiflorum sea pen species are found in this 335 km2 sector.
Protective measures in force

The protective measures in force in the TRPAPs, which can be viewed by clicking on the link of each sector, will be completed when they will obtain legally protected status.

To obtain additional information on the joint marine protected area project: https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/canada-quebec-agreement-entente/index-eng.html This hyperlink will open in a new window.

Magdalen Islands project

A pre-feasibility study conducted between 2012 and 2014 concerning the establishment of a marine protected area in the Magdalen Islands confirmed the diversity of the marine territory and its potential. The study area, whose boundaries have not been finalized, covered roughly 17 000 km² in the heart of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and constitutes a cross-section of this vast region. On June 27, 2019, the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques du Québec and Parks Canada launched a feasibility study to revive the project, which is intended to protect the marine environment. The territory would seek to protect the marine environment and develop it in the same way as the maritime cultural diversity that characterizes the Magdalen Islands. The project is being carried out in close collaboration with the coordination committee comprising representatives of Magdalen Islanders and emphasizes the fishing and mariculture sector.

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Useful links

To find out more about the St. Lawrence River

Contact

If you have questions or comments on the proposed protected marine areas, please contact us at aires.marines@environnement.gouv.qc.ca.

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