New century, new approach to marine planning in B.C.

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New century, new approach to marine planning in B.C.

Marine Planning Partnership Covers

SUMMARY: For the first time in British Columbia’s history, First Nations have been equal partners with the provincial government in developing marine use plans – a historic approach viewed largely by all involved as having yielded very positive outcomes. Beyond the promise of achieving real and lasting impact in shared marine spaces, there are broader lessons for planning and engagement that can be applied in other parts of Canada and globally.

In British Columbia, a unique approach to developing marine plans has involved a spirit of collaboration. The Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, or MaPP as it’s more commonly known, involves the Province and 17 member First Nations — represented by the North Coast–Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society, Coastal First Nations–Great Bear Initiative, Council of the Haida Nation, Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance and Nanwakolas Council. The partnership’s mandate is about planning for marine uses, economic sustainability and the long-term ocean health on B.C.’s North Pacific Coast, divided into four sub-regions: Haida Gwaii, North Coast, Central Coast and North Vancouver Island.

This collaborative approach integrates provincial government policy with First Nations governance systems, cultural practices and Indigenous and scientific knowledge. With a rich and complex history that could have otherwise resulted in lengthy delays and barriers to progress, instead this made-in-B.C. approach has realized solid working relationships and real progress in the five years since a founding letter of intent was signed in 2011.

The MaPP initiative culminated in the official signing of marine plan implementation agreements in early August 2016. With completed plans and agreements in place for the area and its four sub-regions, there is now a clear roadmap and commitment to joint implementation going forward.

The marine planning backdrop

The marine plans achieved through the unique MaPP approach are a combination of provincial and local government policy, First Nations interests and values, traditional and local knowledge and marine science. They also integrate First Nations traditional values and current legal and political perspectives.

The plans come at a time when the legal landscape is shifting, the result of a variety of factors that include: evolving legal definitions for Aboriginal fishing rights, now defined by pre-contact activities and practices; the protected right to fish for food, social or ceremonial purposes; and commercial fishing rights in certain nation-specific cases.

Meanwhile, broader legal drivers are also at play. They include evolving case law, which has opened the doors for First Nations engagement and co-leadership in activities that were typically provincial or federal government-led in the past; a requirement for prior consultation with affected First Nation Peoples; and the expectation for up-front negotiation and agreement in planning and management, now the new norm.

Understanding the approach

With increasing commercial, industrial and recreational activity along the British Columbia coast, the need for marine planning to help guide decisions about ocean use became increasingly clear.

The area involved is vast, encompassing about 102,000 square kilometres of ocean and 29,000 kilometres of coastline — an area that includes the traditional territories of the 17 First Nations’ partners, stretching along two-thirds of the North Pacific Coast of B.C.

MaPP focuses on common First Nations and provincial marine interests where the Province considers that it has legal jurisdiction and regulatory authority.

The MaPP approach and its emphasis on collaboration has stemmed from decades of resource planning (in B.C. and other parts of Canada) that has evolved towards more concerted planning involving First Nations governments. Fundamental to this approach has been the provincial government’s official recognition that First Nations are not simply stakeholders like other individuals or groups, but full-fledged, equal nation-to-nation partners.

This understanding and the relationships built through MaPP represent a critical milestone, with First Nations partners undertaking significant work to prepare for this process and, in many ways, leading on information-gathering, scientific analysis and policy development. Indeed, the precedent MaPP has set is being upheld as an international example of governance and marine spatial planning.

Various factors have not only distinguished the MaPP approach, but contributed greatly to its success.

The geographic scale alone and the number and collaboration of First Nations (in the past, perhaps one or two) coupled with the number of stakeholders engaged was unprecedented in a marine plan.

That the process was designed within a collaborative governance arrangement and involved so many nations was a major first. Such extensive First Nations participation, with nations working together and co-leading the marine planning process with the provincial government, had never before been achieved.

MaPP’s approach to funding was also integral, employing a quasi public-private partnership model that leveraged government and First Nations resources, as well as external resources from private foundations.

The diversity of stakeholders MaPP has brought together and number of marine uses, activities and values it has addressed – and will continue addressing – also distinguishes it from other processes. Among the many planning issues considered: marine science, coastal forestry, commercial and marine tourism, public recreation, finfish and shellfish aquaculture, marine conservation and infrastructure, fish processing, and renewable and non-renewable energy.

More keys to success, lessons learned

There are additional factors the MaPP partners credit to the approach’s success, which they also consider lessons learned.

A major benefit was that everyone involved understood they were at a unique point in time, as mandates and public interest can quickly change while resourcing can go away at any time. Accordingly, opportunities to achieve progress were fully leveraged.

Having the right arrangements and expertise in place was crucial. With proper governance structures and funding already established, the MaPP partnership could quickly undertake its work.

Being able to tap into an abundance of local experts made a real difference. The MaPP process was fortunate to be able to draw on resources in the form of staffing and localized expertise from within the partner organizations.

Having buy-in from stakeholders and local governments, supported by adequate funding to ensure they could engage meaningfully in the process, was critical. Also, establishing the engagement process in advance, ensured a solid, common understanding by project partners of how stakeholders would be engaged over a two-year period.

That plans were developed using a hybrid approach, having both strategic and operational components (where plans would typically be one or the other) – a major benefit. This gave regulators, decision-makers, stakeholders and the public a wide operating policy framework as a foundation.

Considerable flexibility built into the MaPP’s administration and overall project management allowed for much-valued nimbleness, both for organizational and process purposes.

All four MaPP plans used the same zoning approach, which included recommended use tables for each zone and sub-zone. The tables direct managers on how to address applications that are received for a zone’s marine uses and activities. When an application is made, it is referred to both local government and First Nations. This saves considerable time and effort by screening out marine uses from a complex review process – welcome news to First Nations and local governments alike.

Marine management took a significant step forward, with the completion of plans under the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) for the North Pacific Coast; a co-led partnership between BC and 18 coastal Nations. Click the image to learn more.

Challenges and complexities

If the process was to be revisited, the consensus is it would have been better to put additional staff and resources into pre-implementation planning much earlier as it is easy to become so focused on planning that implementation becomes more an after-thought. In this case, implementation agreements were being prepared about eight months before the plans were finalized – a timeframe which proved less than ideal. Once the marine plans were completed, it took a year before some parties were sufficiently comfortable with the implementation agreements to sign them. In the interim, implementation activities were identified and advanced so momentum could be maintained and progress could be demonstrated while collective agreements were refined.

Other significant lessons learned include recognition that good process builds relationships that will outlast current information, science and policy, and that the deliberate effort to reflect First Nations cultural values, governance systems and stewardship obligations leads not only to balanced plans but also greater awareness, understanding and sensitivity by non-Aboriginal stakeholder groups. In B.C., where both First Nations and the Province assert ownership of the marine and coastal areas, this approach reflects a new planning reality as well as provincial government policy.

Some specific challenges and complexities faced during the planning phase included:

  • how to identify and zone areas for marine protection without committing to specific legal designations under provincial legislation;
  • how to address marine and coastal resource management issues that were only indirectly within the mandates of participating governments, First Nations and stakeholder groups;
  • how to link broad, strategic objectives and strategies of the plans with specific area-based zoning direction and recommended use tables;
  • how to draft strategies so that they can readily be translated into measurable actions to gauge plan implementation success and to indicate ecosystem changes in the planning areas.

A new model for planning and policymaking

The marine plans developed through the MaPP partnership reflect a careful balance of planning, policy, science, First Nations tradition and more. The approach has been about applying creative, incremental solutions to areas where there were policy deficiencies.

Many issues faced by the provincial and First Nations governments, including jurisdiction, authority and governance, history and the impacts of past decisions and the importance of economy, culture and environment, can be found in other geographies.

Indeed, some of the tools developed and successfully used in MaPP are already at work in marine planning well beyond B.C. For example, a compatibility matrix, master list of definitions, allowable activities tables and rationale tables are either being used or developed for application in the Seychelles. Also in the Seychelles: a process for stakeholder input and review is being modelled after MaPP, while lessons learned are providing valuable guidance in key areas such as the importance of government-to-government partnerships and leveraging timelines to maintain momentum.

MaPP is a success story about how collaborative planning can work across a very large area that encompasses many different communities, a complex geography with hundreds upon hundreds of inlets and bays and a wide range of priorities, and balancing consistency of approach with flexibility to reflect different issues. Similarly, in places such as Indonesia, with thousands of islands and millions of people spread across thousands of kilometres of ocean space, MaPP can offer useful comparisons to support planning and stakeholder engagement. At the same time, it shows that high-quality ocean planning can occur and be successful while taking into account issues such as governance, Indigenous rights, jurisdiction and authority.

The MaPP partners believe this collaborative approach to planning in the North Pacific Coast has worked because of the enormous effort made by all parties to build trust, establish open lines of communication, address differences and conflicts, agree on deliverables and scope and make decisions together.

In short, good process has contributed to building relationships that will outlast the latest information, science or policy. Furthermore, the MaPP approach is a huge step towards achieving the B.C. government’s commitment to reconciliation with First Nations.

MaPP is a collaborative partnership between 17 member First Nations and the Province of British Columbia. MaPP plans and other information can be found at


Each of the four sub-regional plans developed had its own process, unique participants, stakeholders and objectives. The following are some highlights relating to the development of the sub-regional plans.

Pre-2011 Local First Nations complete individual community plans. Existing provincial plans, policies, legislation and management procedures.
November 2011 MaPP is formed. The local First Nation plans are used as the basis for development of preliminary draft plan components with the Province, which then augments with exiting provincial legislation, policies and management measures to be used in discussions with stakeholders.
Late fall 2011 through June 2014 To build the sub-regional plans, the Marine Plan Advisory Committees (MPAC) are formed and go on to meet nearly 15 times over a two-year period to review draft plan components. Supporting the process are two co-leads (one representing the First Nations and the other representing the Province) and a wealth of expertise from partner organizations staff.

MaPP partner technical staff work together to develop shared planning tools (zoning framework, recommended uses and activities table, vulnerability matrix, compatibility matrix, Sea Sketch online mapping, current conditions and trends reports, and a plan assessment process). The sub-regional planning teams use information from available or internal research, consultant reports and stakeholder input to build the overall plan.

Public open houses are held in sub-regional communities, launching a six-week public review period in the spring of 2014. Based on public input, proposed changes to the plan are subsequently reviewed and/or incorporated.

Among the topics discussed as part of the development of a sub-regional plan are: a vision statement; ecosystem-based management issues, objectives and strategies; climate change; tsunami debris management; marine pollution; marine conservation and protection; cultural and heritage resources; marine recreation and tourism; commercial, recreational and First Nations fisheries; the tenuring process; aquaculture; log handling and storage; energy; infrastructure; collaborative management and governance; monitoring and enforcement; marine research and education; communities and economy; and zoning framework.

April 2015 A signing ceremony is held at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria where sub-regional partner representatives, technical staff and stakeholders celebrate the signing of the four sub-regional marine plans.
May 2016 Regional Action Framework is signed.
August 2016 Four separate implementation agreements between the B.C. government and sub-regional First Nations are signed.

Contact person:

  • Josie Byington
  • Communications Assistant
  • Marine Plan Partnership
  • 250-816-1934

mapp logo

By John Bones, Charles Short, Steve Diggon. The Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) is a co-led process between 17 First Nations and the Government of the Province of British Columbia that developed and is implementing plans for marine uses on B.C.’s North Pacific Coast, now and into the future. The MaPP initiative is notable also for the diversity of stakeholders involved and the number of marine uses, activities and values addressed. For more information on Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) visit

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