Currently, fragmented governance arrangements in BC are making it difficult to manage the province’s expansive coastline. That’s why CPAWS and West Coast Environmental Law are joining forces to ask the government of BC to develop a strategy and law that will protect the coast. BC has the opportunity to position itself as a world leader in ocean and coastal zone management, for healthy ocean ecosystems, coastal economies and communities. 

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is Canada’s only nationwide charity dedicated solely to the protection of public land, ocean and freshwater. West Coast Environmental Law is a non-profit group of lawyers and strategists working to transform environmental decision-making and strengthen legal protection for the environment, in BC and across Canada.

Seagull eating starfish

British Columbia’s position on the Pacific is a great strength. The coast and ocean provide British Columbians with food, jobs, ecosystem services, and a sense of identity.

But these unique ecosystems face major challenges: declining ocean health and increased conflicts over marine use. Oceans are showing signs of stress – and this stress is compounded by fragmented governance arrangements that make it more difficult to manage ocean uses or to address problems affecting coastal health.

BC now has the opportunity to position itself as world leader in ocean and coastal zone management, for economic prosperity and ocean health. A comprehensive coastal strategy, including a new law, will have social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits.

Why does BC need a coastal strategy and law?

To assert jurisdiction and engage effectively with other orders of government

BC exercises considerable jurisdiction in the marine and coastal realm, and works closely with other levels of government who share this jurisdiction – including Indigenous, federal and local governments. Yet unlike all of the Atlantic provinces, B.C. has no comprehensive coastal and marine strategy. A B.C. Coastal Strategy will clearly articulate provincial jurisdiction and enable the province to engage more powerfully with Canada.

To better advance and integrate provincial policy objectives

A coherent B.C. Coastal Strategy will enable provincial agencies to find opportunities for greater integration of diverse program areas including environmental protection, coastal infrastructure, training and capacity-building, economic development, and technology and innovation. Better integration can also help advance the province’s goals in these different policy areas.

To advance reconciliation

A B.C. Coastal Strategy will support reconciliation with coastal First Nations by recognizing First Nations’ rights and title and upholding the province’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

To signal to the world the importance of BC’s ocean and coastlines

A B.C. Coastal Strategy and Law will provide a vision, goals and strategies to guide actions in the increasingly crowded coastal zone, and will highlight the importance the government places on these vital areas. In addition to protecting the B.C. coast, sensitive marine ecosystems, and vulnerable species, a strategy will also protect coastal communities and economies.


To provide a comprehensive legal response to a broad suite of cross-cutting issues

The current array of provincial policy and legislation that address marine and coastal issues was not designed to deal with today’s pressures of development, climate change and user conflicts. The B.C. Land Act helps to manage a variety of different activities on land, but there is currently no marine counterpart. Instead, coastal and marine activities are governed by piecemeal legislation and policy.  

To establish a home for coastal issues within the government

The province of B.C. used to have a provincial Ministry of Fisheries, which became a division, then a branch. Now coastal and marine responsibilities are scattered throughout various Ministries. A new law could establish a new governance body such as a B.C. Coastal Management Council or Authority.

To keep wild places wild

A new law will preserve coastal and ocean health. It can require the completion of a network of marine protected areas to benefit fisheries, biodiversity and the economy. A coastal law can better regulate clean water, by setting marine environmental quality objectives that apply to activities upland. It will help communities adopt ecosystem-based approaches to manage risks from sea level rise, climate change and ocean acidification.

To implement enforceable coastal and marine zone plans, similar to land use plane

The notable plans from the Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) developed collaboratively with First Nations contain zoning and management directions for a wide range of marine uses and activities under provincial jurisdiction like monitoring and enforcement, pollution, and tenured activities. A new law can provide a clear pathway for legislative implementation of these plans.

To enhance food security by ensuring local access to marine food resources.

A new law will support the implementation of B.C.’s Wild Salmon Strategy as well as a comprehensive approach to sustainable aquaculture.

A new B.C. Coastal Strategy and Law will ensure that the government of B.C. has the right tools in place to protect the coast and keep our ocean healthy and secure for the future.