Evaluating the role and designation of critical habitat for conserving Canadian marine species at risk: a decision framework
Ryan, Amy Lynn
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Human-induced activities are increasing the rate at which species and their habitats are declining. The Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA) offers a protective framework for species and their habitat. To receive full habitat protection, however, requires that the critical habitat be identified in the recovery planning process. The designation of critical habitat for marine species is a particularly challenging task due to a limited understanding of marine species and their habitats. For many reasons, the federal government struggles to meet the legal requirement of defining the critical habitat of marine species when, for many, habitat loss or destruction is a minor threat. The assessment of COSEWIC status reports and SARA recovery strategies for marine species at risk demonstrated that the primary threat to these species is overexploitation, resulting from either direct (extraction) or accidental (bycatch, vessel strikes) mortality. Human activities that have the potential to physically destroy the habitat include commercial or industrial activities, such as dredging and bottom trawling, as well as threats that result in the depletion of prey or degradation of prey quality. Given the multitude of threats facing marine species at risk, and the limited capacity for dealing with conservation issues, efforts must prioritize where time and money is spent. This report proposes a decision-framework meant to be used as a tool to determine the amount of time and resources that should be invested in the designation of critical habitat during the recovery planning process for species at risk, with the overall goal of rendering recovery planning under SARA more transparent, defensible, and efficient.