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This page provides background information and key milestones for the ESSIM Initiative.

The ESSIM Initiative: A Brief Overview

The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management (ESSIM) Initiative is a collaborative management and planning process led by the Oceans and Coastal Management Division (OCMD), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO - Maritimes Region). The ESSIM Initiative was announced by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in December 1998 and followed the recommendation from the Sable Gully Conservation Strategy that integrated management approaches be applied to the offshore area around the Sable Gully Area of Interest (AOI) under DFO's Marine Protected Areas Program.

The 1997 Oceans Act and its supporting policy, Canada's Oceans Strategy, affirm DFO's mandate as the lead federal authority for oceans and provide the national context for the Initiative. The principles and approaches of the Initiative are rooted in developing international ocean governance processes and Canada's ocean-related international legal commitments. DFO's national Integrated Management Policy and Operational Framework provides further guidance on the development of integrated management plans and processes under the Oceans Act. Of particular importance is the commitment to establish Large Ocean Management Areas (LOMAs) for all of Canada's marine regions.

LOMAs extend from the coastline to the limits of jurisdiction under international law and will address large-scale ecosystem and economic development issues through the development and implementation of integrated ocean management plans by incorporating ecosystem, socio-economic, cultural and institutional management objectives and indicators. LOMAs may also include Coastal Management Areas (CMAs) to enable the development of integrated management plans for estuarine and coastal areas.

The ESSIM Initiative supports the national Integrated Management Policy by designing a regional intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder planning process to develop and implement an Integrated Ocean Management Plan for the eastern Scotian Shelf area. The initial Integrated Ocean Management Plan applies to the offshore area, specifically beyond the 12 nautical mile Territorial Sea. However, DFO will continue to work with provincial and municipal agencies, Aboriginal groups and coastal communities in the development of coastal management plans. A key example of this is the Bras d'Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative. Coastal and watershed-based planning will be nested within the broader Integrated Ocean Management Plan so that management principles, objectives and approaches are consistent and complimentary for these shared ecosystems.

The Eastern Scotian Shelf has been selected for the application of integrated ocean management because it possesses important living and non-living marine resources, significant areas of high biological diversity and productivity, and increasing levels of multiple use and competition for ocean space and resources. Key ocean use interests and activities include fisheries, offshore oil and gas, shipping, maritime defence operations, submarine cables, science, research and development, recreation and tourism, potential offshore minerals development, and marine conservation. The boundaries of the current planning area comprise a mix of existing administrative and ecological considerations, combined with an offshore community of interest.

Several components of the eastern Scotian Shelf ecosystem have changed as a consequence of human actions and environmental variability. The magnitude of change has been large and the change has occurred rapidly. From a species perspective, some groups are proliferating (e.g., pelagics and invertebrates) while others are not rebuilding as quickly as expected (e.g., groundfish). Trophic level shifts, introduced invasive species, and shifting species range distributions are characteristics of a changed marine ecosystem structure. Recent peer reviewed ecological overviews and assessments of the Scotian Shelf include the State of the Eastern Scotian Shelf Ecosystem [PDF format - 2.24MB]; The Scotian Shelf: An Ecological Overview for Ocean Planning [PDF format - 43.9MB] and Implications of Ecosystem Dynamics for the Integrated Management of the Eastern Scotian Shelf [PDF format - 1.78MB].

The aim of the ESSIM Initiative is to have an effective, collaborative process that provides integrated and adaptive management plans, strategies and actions for ecosystem, social, economic, and institutional sustainability. A collaborative process is an open, inclusive and transparent planning, advisory and decision-making process involving all interested and affected parties. Ocean management plans and decisions are based on shared information where those with the decision-making authority and those affected by the decision jointly seek outcomes that meet the needs and interests of all parties to the greatest possible degree. Under this approach, those with the authority, power and responsibility to implement agreed management plan measures will be expected to do so as part of their commitment to the planning process. The management of this area is complex and this is reflected in the federal, provincial and international regulatory and policy frameworks in place on the Scotian Shelf as summarized in the peer-reviewed Overview of Federal, Provincial and International Ocean Regulatory and Policy Frameworks [PDF format - 2.89MB].

The supporting objectives of ESSIM Initiative are aimed at a balanced approach to achieving ecosystem, social, economic, and institutional sustainability. The three overarching goals of the Initiative are:

  • Collaborative Governance and Integrated Management
  • Sustainable Human Use
  • Healthy Ecosystems

For more information, see the ESSIM plan or contact the Planning Office.