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Eastern Scotian Shelf Initiative

Case Authors

Amy Samples, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative is a Canadian collaborative ocean management and planning process in the Atlantic Ocean. It is led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the authorization of Canada’s Ocean’s Act of 1997.

The initiative developed an Integrated Ocean Management plan for a large area south of Nova Scotia that contains important living and non-living marine resources, significant areas of high biological diversity, and increasing levels of multiple use and competition for ocean space and resources.

The effort involves federal agencies and created a structure to engage many stakeholder groups, including fisheries, oil and gas, mineral, shipping, and conservation interests.

Although the initiative does not have regulatory authority, federal agencies are expected to implement the strategies outlined in the management plan within their existing mandates by reallocating resources and developing shared goals.

Those strategies include modeling and classifying the ecosystem, incorporating ocean use mapping and spatial decision support, and promoting industry-led best practices. The strategies are designed to support a vision of healthy and sustainable ecosystems, economies and communities, supported by collaborative, integrated and harmonized governance and management.

MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Focus on improving the resource at an ecosystem scale.
  • Collaboration: Use of partnerships to bridge socio-political jurisdictions and involvement of a range of stakeholders.
  • Complexity: Use of a science-based process to inform the drafting of the integrated management plan.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Plan is to provide a common basis for commitment and action to realize collaborative governance and management, sustainable use of the resource, and healthy ecosystems.


The many objectives of the initiative include commitments to:

  • Establish new governance structures.
  • Ensure all relevant legal obligations are fulfilled.
  • Promote user and regulatory authority compliance and accountability.
  • Build research and knowledge to support management decisions.
  • Share information and communicate among stakeholders and decision-makers.
  • Provide coastal communities with equitable opportunities and access to sustainable livelihoods.
  • Ensure human activity does not cause unacceptable alterations to core drivers of ecosystem functioning.
  • Safeguard the physical, chemical and habitat elements of marine ecosystems.  
  • Ensure that the quality of the environment is capable of supporting the growth and health of marine organisms.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations


  • Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Oceans and Coastal Management Division

Key Parties


  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • Communications Canada
  • Transport Canada


  • Governments of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland


  • Aboriginal Peoples
  • Academic and Research Groups
  • Commercial Fishers
  • Communications Sector
  • Community Groups
  • Conservation Organizations
  • Municipal Governments
  • Offshore Petroleum Boards
  • Transportation Sector
  • Tourism Sector


Program Structure

The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative (ESSIM) is composed of five entities:

Federal-Provincial Working Group

The Federal-Provincial Working Group facilitated the initial “government-to-government conversation” and structure for the initiative. Fisheries and Oceans Canada initiated a discussion among different levels of government on the varied ocean-related mandates before moving to engage stakeholders.

The group met four times annually starting around 2000 or 2001. The working group still exists but may have fallen by the wayside, according to one participant in the initiative.

Maritime Provinces Regional Committee on Ocean Management

The Maritime Provinces Regional Committee on Ocean Management (RCOM) was created in 2005 as the executive decision-making body of the initiative. Introduction of the RCOM formalized the role of agency leads in achieving the goals of the initiative. The RCOM is made up of senior government officials and has an oversight and approval role. Membership includes representatives of federal and provincial governments and the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.


The ESSIM Forum engages interested individuals or groups in periodic workshops. Anybody interested in the process can participate.

The first ESSIM Forum Workshop in 2002 had nearly 150 participants, beginning a broad stakeholder dialogue on integrated ocean management. The second workshop in 2003 discussed the elements of an integrated ocean management plan and requirements of a collaborative governance structure. The third workshop in 2005 introduced a draft of the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Ocean Management Plan for review and comment. The fourth workshop in 2008 discussed implementation of the plan. Each workshop hosted presentations and discussions relating to the initiative or integrated management.

Stakeholder Advisory Committee

A Stakeholder Advisory Committee developed in 2005 is made up of approximately 30 members representing federal, provincial and municipal officials and Aboriginal peoples; the Offshore Petroleum Board; academic and research groups; community groups; an oil and gas exploration association; and interests representing the commercial fisheries, communications, tourism and transportation sectors.

The committee provides advice, guidance, leadership and formal stakeholder representation. It works by consensus and was involved in drafting the Strategic Plan by commenting on draft documents.


The ESSIM Planning Office is responsible for ongoing administration and operational activities in support of the other groups. The office is located in the Oceans and Coastal Management Division, DFO Maritimes Region at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia.


Motivations for Initiating Effort

The following four factors led to the development of the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative:

  • Canada’s Oceans Act of 1997: The federal law mandated development of integrated management plans for all of Canada’s marine regions and requires the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to lead and facilitate a network of Marine Protected Areas.
  • Large Ocean Management Areas: DFO developed a national Integrated Management Policy and Operational Framework. It established that the integrated management plans will include ecosystem, socio-economic, cultural and institutional management objectives. The plans will engage all levels of government, aboriginal groups, industry and organizations, environmental and community groups, and academia are to work together in developing a strategic, long-term plan for sustainable management of resources within the boundaries of Large Ocean Management Areas.
  • Sable Gully: Sable Gully had attracted conservation interest because of its ecological significance. After passage of the Oceans Act, Sable Gully was chosen to pilot the integrated management effort. One outcome was to recommend extending the integrated management approach to the offshore area around the Gully.
  • The ESSIM Initiative: The initiative was announced by the minister of fisheries and oceans in 1998. It was the first LOMA chosen for the integrated management planning process. The eastern Scotian Shelf area was selected because of its 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.


Major Strategies

The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative identified a series of management strategies. Each strategy represents a general course of activities. The strategies include the use of various tools, such as ocean use mapping and spatial decision support, ecosystem classification and modeling, and industry-led best management practices and stewardship programs.

The strategies often reference existing programs and initiatives that contribute to the achievement of the objectives. In some cases, the continuation or enhancement of existing programs and initiatives may be all that is required to achieve an objective, while in other cases, entirely new programs and activities will be necessary.

The initiative does not have regulatory authority. Because the Oceans Act does not confer additional power, regulatory authorities remain responsible and accountable for implementing management policies and measures within their existing mandates and jurisdictions. According to the ESSIM Plan Summary, “government departments are expected to support implementation of the Plan through their management and decision-making powers” by reallocating resources and developing and implementing shared goals. 

Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative guided identification of ecological priority areas on the Scotian Shelf, including a benthic community classification (2001 to 2005); identification of ecologically and biologically significant areas (EBSA criteria, 2004); and determination of Scotian Shelf Priority Areas using MARXAN software (2006).

Additionally, Ocean Use Mapping and a Coral Conservation Plan reflect utilization of science and technology in fulfilling the initiative's plan.


Ecosystem Outcomes

Environmental assessments for oil and gas on the eastern Scotian Shelf are now subject to more rigorous review because of the consideration of more detailed information. Similarly, fish management plans have become more inclusive.

Protected Area Planning

The ESSIM Initiative has ushered in new approaches to protected area planning. The Oceans Act and subsequent Federal Marine Protected Areas Strategy of 2002 called for a national network that meets common objectives related to biodiversity representation. MARXAN optimization software is being used to develop a network plan that achieves the highest proportion of conservation goals.

Formalized Fisheries Response

The fishing industry has organized a Scotia-Fundy Fishing Sector Industry Roundtable as a formal response to the recommendations for improved fishery management. The group of fishing industry representatives includes representatives of harvesters, buyers, managers, processors, and scientists and discusses issues relating to the industry.


Factors Facilitating Progress

The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative has been facilitated by several factors, including:

  • Legislative Foundation: The Oceans Act provided a strong legislative foundation for the initiative. It provided the genesis of the ocean management effort, described the intent to engage in integrated ocean planning and management, affirmed the mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) as the lead federal authority for oceans, and set out the national context for the initiative.
  • Enhanced Interagency Coordination: Coordination of effort also occurs within the DFO administrative jurisdictions in support of the Oceans Act. The five existing Large Ocean Management Areas (LOMAs) have DFO staff attending to management planning. Because the effort is relatively new, the various jurisdictions can gain information and influence by working together. Following the difficulty in attaining the signature of the minister on the initiative’s strategic plan, collaboration with another LOMA initiative has been used as leverage in the new push for federal approval. In coordinating effort, the DFO is gaining momentum for both initiatives.
  • Utilization of Pilot Projects: Using pilot projects allowed the DFO to overcome its limited resources and knowledge, and learn about large ocean management. Significantly, the Oceans Act did not provide additional funding. The Sable Gully Marine Protected Area process was used a pilot project. The utilization of a small-scale, initial effort ultimately laid the foundation for a larger ocean management initiative.
  • Effective Process Management: Developing an ecosystem-based management approach can be a long and potentially controversial effort as stakeholders learn how to coordinate their efforts. To retain stakeholder engagement, strong leadership in guiding the process is important.
  • Marine Spatial Planning: The DFO is considering more regulatory strategies, recognizing the initiative’s limited capacity to require implementation of its strategic plan. For instance, MARXAN software has been used to select potential protected areas that satisfy the greatest proportion of conservation goals. Moving forward, the DFO is examining marine spatial planning as an operational mechanism to affect change. The DFO has worked closely with the European Commission on a collaborative project with World Wildlife Fund, which hired an expert to develop a roadmap for MSP in Canada.



The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative has encountered several challenges, including:

  • Performance Evaluation and Need for Baseline Data: Monitoring and evaluating the initiative’s performance is expensive, time consuming, and difficult. However, if managers have alternate perceptions of ecological reality their initiatives to manage the ecosystem may not be appropriate. Monitoring data can provide a solution. But objective measures have not yet been put in place to measure the initiative’s progress.
  • Management Area Boundaries: In balancing the goal of ecosystem-level management with perceptions of feasibility, the initiative uses several socio-political boundaries that have little ecological value. As one participant reflected, “The fact that they call it ecosystem management and it has boundaries that are not ecological has created some tension and concerns for the participants right from the start.” There is concern that without ecologically based boundaries, true ecosystem-based management may be compromised.
  • Social Versus Scientific Process: The initiative is geared to produce an ecosystem-based management approach. Since the program was announced in 1998, however, the ecosystem has been only marginally affected. In evaluating program performance, it is important to collect ecological monitoring data to assess the influence of stated management initiatives on ecosystem outcomes. Practitioners must keep an eye on ecosystem objectives, rather than judging progress solely on “people getting along.”
  • Oil and Gas Resources and Jurisdictional Conflict: Oil and gas industries have a history of resisting regulation on the Scotian Shelf. To understand the ongoing controversy surrounding the Scotian Shelf, it is important to understand the jurisdictional structure that complicates resource management. Though the Oceans Act reaffirmed Fisheries and Oceans Canada as the lead authority for oceans, interrelationships between various agencies have historically complicated management efforts. Federal and provincial governments have argued over resource and planning boundaries. The dispute has stymied formal approval of the initiative’s strategic plan. Although federal authorities are implementing the plan, it lacks the symbolic approval from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Fisheries: Fisheries management is controversial on the Scotian Shelf. One participant remarks that managers struggling to operate in the EBM paradigm are not put off by the scale of the approach, but by the matter of reducing the impact of fishing on the ecosystem. Fishing is a mainstay of the coastal Canadian economy and regulation is controversial. One consultant noted, “Fishermen and environmentalists have to learn to talk to each other, and relationship building takes time.” Other criticism has focused on the dual role of DFO in managing fisheries and implementing the initiative’s strategic plan.
  • Integrated Management is Not Regulation: The Oceans Act does not provide the DFO with additional regulatory authority. The legislation does not allow DFO to force decisions that complement the plan. Without regulatory authority, the initiative relies on coordination and collaboration and the ability to influence agencies to participate and implement the plan.
  • Information Sharing: A program must instill capacity and facilitate the ability of the people who are at the table to share information and collect information with their constituent groups. One participant cautioned, “If participants are going to meetings, and then back to their small little group, but not spreading the message any further, then you’re failing.”
  • A Slow Pace of Change: A DFO representative recognized the pace of change is slower than what is desired by environmental groups but integrated management is about incremental improvement which can lead to longer systematic change.


Lessons Learned

People familiar with the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative have learned:

  • Scope and Integration: Stating broad goals and having an integrated plan does not ensure they will be effectively integrated. In some cases, the objectives are in conflict. Moving forward, marine spatial planning is being used to “make it real on the water” by taking multiple, often conflicting objectives, and putting them into play by developing a solution or compromise.
  • Knowing When to Coordinate: When Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) presented a draft of the strategic plan, members of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee did not agree on the goals and outcomes. Stakeholders came to the table with their own priorities and perceptions, making the consensus-based planning process difficult to navigate. One DFO representative warns, “Coordination can only really be successful if everyone does agree on where they want to end up. It’s only if everyone says ‘we all agree we want to come out with outcome X, but we can’t figure out how to do it’ – that you coordinate.” Though it took several years, stakeholders were able to participate in the planning process, giving them a greater sense of ownership over the outcome.
  • Achieving Consensus: Although some people criticize the strategic plan as being too general, making the plan more detailed would have complicated the effort to maintain consensus among stakeholders.
  • Dealing with the Political Process: The mission and activity of government agencies is often driven by pre-existing legislation and mandates. This rigid structure and institutional inertia does not immediately or easily yield to the application of collaborative initiatives. DFO staff are reflecting on the Ocean’s Act mandate to “collaborate” and what it means to move beyond “consulting.”
  • Government Support: Although the initiative resulted from a strong legislative foundation, government officials were not immediately prepared to participate in the integrated processes. Initially some offices sent very junior representatives or participated haphazardly. Since the Oceans Act does not allow existing jurisdictions to be overridden, it is very important “to have government at the table and to have them commit, and be held accountable to doing things.” Only when member agencies are actively involved can actions promoted in the strategic plan be implemented.
  • Representation and the Myth of Community: A core principle of EBM is the concept of inclusiveness, giving all stakeholders affected by management decisions a voice in the process and empowering them to participate. However, in practice, it is difficult to achieve inclusive representation.


Website Links

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