VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A coalition of environmental groups warned on Friday that Canada is failing to meet its commitments to protect oceans and falling behind efforts being made by the United States and Australia.
Canada has laws that allow it to set up sufficient marine protection areas off its Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, but has not followed through with management plans needed to meet its international promises, the groups said.
"We have the how (to do it), but not the what to do, where or when," said Colin Campbell, a marine specialist at the Sierra Club of British Columbia.
Canada, which has the world's longest coastline, agreed in the 1990s to join in creating a worldwide network of ocean areas by 2012 that would be protected from development such as drilling, mining and bottom-trawling fishing.
It has designated seven offshore marine protected areas; including the Gully, a deep canyon in the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia, and the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vents in an volcanic area in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of British Columbia.
Four sites are close to designation and six others being looked at, according Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Ottawa agrees on the need to protect marine areas, a government official said, but it is also taking other measures to protect the oceans, such as limiting fishing at different times of the year.
"There are different ways of addressing problems ... you don't use a hammer to screw in a screw," said Camille Mageau, director of the fisheries department's oceans policy and planning branch.
Mageau said the groups also failed to consider the numerous small shoreline marine areas protected by Parks Canada and provincial governments.
The groups said even with those areas considered, Canada lags Australia and United States, which have protected a greater percentage of their marine areas and provide more funding to implement their plans.
The environmentalists acknowledged Canada's effort faces the problem of competing coastal jurisdiction between the federal and provincial governments as well as native Indians, who must be consulted on policies in their historic territories.
"Our view is that it's time for our governments to get over it," said Bill Wareham of the David Suzuki Foundation.
Friday's report echoed the warning in a comprehensive study released in April by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, which said Canada has a "hodgepodge" approach to marine conservation without a clear vision.
Reporting Allan Dowd; Editing Peter Galloway