Nine estuary management case studies in British Columbia were identified by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for review to document the planning process and plan components and to assess their effectiveness in protecting fish habitat. Six of the case studies were estuary management plans, with the Courtenay estuary plan accepted by DFO and in use by the Regional District but not the two local governments. Three of the studies, Prince Rupert, Port McNeill, and Tofino studies were actually habitat assessments of marine areas and were prepared to provide background information towards developing a plan. An estuary planning process for the Nanaimo River estuary has recently been initiated to develop a habitat classification and plan for the management and protection of fish habitat and other environmental values. The plan is targeted for completion in October 2002.
Of the five estuary management plans reviewed, the Fraser River Estuary Management Plan, prepared by the Fraser River Estuary Management Program (FREMP) provides the most comprehensive approach to estuary planning in British Columbia. The development of a habitat inventory and shoreline classification and coordinated project review using an Environmental Review Committee are two of the main achievements of the plan that have resulted in protection and creation of quality fish habitat (e.g. intertidal marshes). The classification system has been used in several smaller estuaries used as case studies for this assessment.
The Campbell River Estuary Management Plan, provides a unique example of efforts to manage the estuary almost solely for conservation and recreation with full broad stakeholder support. The formation of the Campbell River Estuary Management Commission and completion of an industrial relocation strategy have been effective in furthering the plan. The Plan has also benefited from substantial external grant funding to purchase land and conduct several habitat enhancement and restoration projects.
The Cowichan case study provided an example of a less effective management structure using the B.C. Order-in-Council approach. The weaknesses in the approach include difficulty in making changes to make the plan responsive to local needs and changing conditions. Subsequent attempts to revise the plan have been unsuccessful due to lack of local support.
Estuary management plans can be useful tools for implementing more sustainable development and protecting fish and wildlife habitat. However, it is important that the major stakeholders “buy in” to the plan from the onset. To develop more environmentally sound plans in the future, an ecological perspective is recommended for guiding the preparation of estuary management plans. Some recommendations for improving the planning process are offered and several candidate estuaries needing management plans are identified.