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State of the Scotian Shelf Report 

The State of the Scotian Shelf was a state of the environment report produced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada between 2010 and 2013. It was co-published with the Atlantic Coastal Zone Information Steering Committee (now COINAtlantic) and directed by a steering committee. The report was intended to provide information for the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management (ESSIM) Initiative and other oceans management activities. The report is modular, consisting of a context document and a series of theme papers that provided an in-depth look at priority issues. The complete series of papers was also compiled as a Fisheries and Oceans Canada technical report. The initiative came to an end after the initial theme papers were completed and Fisheries and Oceans Canada implemented a national approach to state of the oceans reporting. More information about the report and the themes chosen can be found below, along with the context document and theme papers.


Read the EIUI Study of the State of the Scotian Shelf Report titled, "What Do Users Want From a State of the Environment Report?" to learn more.

About the Report

The Scotian Shelf is a 700 km long section of the Continental Shelf, situated between the Laurentian Channel on the northeast and the Northeast Channel/Fundian Channel on the southwest. Large shallow banks are found on the outer part of the shelf, with basins and smaller banks in the middle and inner shelf. The Scotian Shelf is a rich ecosystem characterized by a diversity of marine life, communities and habitats. The Scotian Shelf is also alive with ocean activity. There are a variety of human activities that occur on the shelf both on a year-round and seasonal basis.

The Scotian Shelf in Context, provides an introduction to the natural and socio-economic environment, and provides an overview of the Scotian Shelf, particularly for those readers who are not familiar with the region. The theme papers are based on priorities identified through the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative. The State of the Scotian Shelf Report is funded by DFO Canaada. 



The International Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Generally, it refers to variety and abundance of organisms in given areas. A diversity of species requires a diversity of habitats. Habitats are the building blocks of the Scotian Shelf ecosystem. They provide homes for the animals, plants, and microbes that inhabit the coastal and offshore waters.

Intact marine habitats in the Scotian Shelf support productive fisheries and serve a host of other functions such as cycling nutrients, filtering pollution, storing carbon, and providing recreation opportunities. Habitats of the Scotian Shelf do not exist in isolation, each habitat functions as part of the larger Scotian Shelf landscape Human activities and natural conditions affect biodiversity through direct and indirect effects on species, communities and habitats.

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Climate Change

Anthropogenic climate change, including warming, is due to increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions largely from the use of fossil fuel. The rate of warming during the past 50 years has been about twice that during the last 100 years. Climate change has had biological effects world-wide. Consistent with the expected earlier springs and longer summers, changes in timing of seasonal events and distribution were observed in 59% of 1,598 species in the latter half of the 20th century.



Productivity is a measure of the amount of biological material produced in a given area at a given time.  Productivity is a core indicator of ecosystem health. Productivity can be divided into three components: primary and secondary productivity; trophic structure; and population productivity.


Fish Status

Fishing has been occurring on the Scotian Shelf since the mid-1500s. The industry has experienced many changes over time, including the collapse of the cod stock and the development of a prominent shellfish fishery, and remains an important component of Nova Scotia’s economy. Fishing and fish processing, together with the industries dependent on them, form the economic base for many of Nova Scotia's coastal communities.

The commercial fishery targets over 30 species. Shellfish, including lobster, scallop, snow crab and shrimp are key commercial species. A viable fishing industry is dependent on healthy fish stocks. Fisheries and Oceans Canada monitors the commercial fish stock on the Scotian Shelf and regularly produces stock status reports on individual species. The theme paper, Fish Stock Status and Commercial Fisheries provides information on the key fish stocks and commercial fisheries on the Scotian Shelf.


Marine Quality 

Marine environmental quality refers to the condition of the physical and chemical elements of the ocean.  This includes the physical and chemical characteristics and conditions of the ocean bottom (e.g. sediments) and the water column.  Good marine environment quality is required to support the growth and health of marine life.

There are many human activities that can alter the physical and chemical conditions of the ocean.  Current issues of concern include noise in the marine environment, waste and debris, and water and sediment quality. These issues are the focus of three theme papers in this section. A fourth theme paper on ocean acidification links with both Climate Change and Marine Environmental Quality. Links to that paper can be found in both theme sections.


Emerging Issues

An emerging issue is an issue that is not generally recognized but that may have a considerable impact on environmental (social, economic and ecological) well-being in the future. Emerging issues may have positive or negative impacts. The field of understanding and predicting these possible future impacts is called futures research or foresight.

Environmental policies are often a reaction to the current state of the environment, in order to cure already occurring damages or to remedy environmental problems when they are already in place. But environmental policies need to be able to anticipate future evolutions and apply the precautionary approach in managing them in the light of the uncertainty associated with them. This is particularly important in managing the environment sustainably for future generations.

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