Many human activities impact cold-water corals in Canada's three oceans (Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific). But recent reports by Campbell and Simms (2009) and DFO (2010), like most others, identified the mobile gear fishing industry as the greatest threat.
International treaties and agreements provide the framework for which the Canada manages cold-water corals and the habitats they form. Canada is bound by treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity 2004, which as of 2008, includes the protection of vulnerable biogenic structures supporting high biodiversity such as cold-water corals. The United Nations General Assembly now requires Canadian regional management to identify vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs) such as those formed by cold-water corals, to assess impacts of bottom fishing on VMEs, and to cease bottom fishing in areas where VMEs are known to occur. Canada has adopted the code of conduct outlined by the Fisheries and Agriculture Organization in 1995, which as of 2007, includes guidelines on the management of High Seas deep-sea fisheries to limit the effects of fishing on VMEs. In 2006, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization implemented closures of Canadian cold-water coral habitats including Orphan Knoll and the Newfoundland Seamounts (and in 2009, the Fogo Seamounts) to protect these areas from trawling for the period 2007-2010.
Critically, in 2007, NAFO implemented Canada’s first Coral Protection Zone in the Labrador Sea, an area approximately 12 500 km2 large, closed to all bottom fishing gear until at least 2012. At the national level, several parliamentary acts fall under DFO’s remit, including the Fisheries Act, the Oceans Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species at Risk Act (SARA), all of which result in the nation working to conserve Canada’s cold-water corals. Although no corals are listed under SARA, they could in the future be included should data on their occurrence and vulnerability render them at risk. Notably, the Ocean’s Act has allowed DFO to establish several Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Canada’s waters, including important cold-water coral areas such as the Gully (eastern Scotian Shelf) and the Bowie Seamount (west of the Queen Charlotte Islands, BC).
The Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act provides for the establishment of a national system of MPAs. Currently, four areas containing or expected to contain cold-water corals and/or sponge reefs are being considered as part of this system, and would cover all three of Canada’s oceans, from the west coast of BC to the St. Lawrence Sea Atlantic Gateway, to Lancaster Sound in the Arctic Ocean.