Tourism Vessels and Low Impact Shipping Corridors in Arctic Canada: Trends, Risks, Community Perspectives and Management Strategies

Jackie Dawson, Natalie Ann Carter, Nicolien van Luijk, Alison Cook, Melissa Weber, Andrew Orawiec, Emma Stewart, Jean Holloway

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


Marine tourism in the Canadian Arctic is a small but rapidly growing industry. Since 1990, the average annual distance travelled by passenger vessels (e.g., cruise ships) has more than doubled, and for pleasure crafts (e.g., commercial or private yachts) the average annual distance travelled has increased by nearly 4000%. This growth is tremendous, yet, at the same time, pleasure craft vessels are also some of the least regulated vessels in the Canadian Arctic (Johnston et al., 2017a). The Federal Government of Canada has responded to the overall need for additional regulatory frameworks for all vessels in the Canadian Arctic. The government is in the process of developing what is now known as the Low Impact Shipping Corridors (LISC). The LISC are described as shipping routes throughout the Canadian Arctic that are intended to provide “infrastructure, navigational support and emergency response services needed for safer marine navigation, while respecting the environment and local ecology and cultures” (Transport Canada, 2017a). While this management system has the potential to provide much needed support to many types of vessels travelling through the Canadian Arctic (e.g. re-supply vessels), this report highlights the need for the creation of alternative and additional management systems for tourist vessels in particular. Tourist vessels present unique risks in terms of travel through the Canadian Arctic. The purpose of this type of travel is not simply to transit through, or to find the safest and fastest route, the purpose is adventure and exploration. This means that tourist vessels often travel to areas of the Canadian Arctic that are not necessarily well serviced or charted. The findings of this report show that a significant portion of the distance travelled by both passenger ships and pleasure crafts occurs outside of the LISC. At the same time, the findings also show that tourist vessels like to travel through government and community identified areas of significance, such as Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs; See Science Advisory Report 2011/055) and Culturally Significant Marine Areas (CSMAs). The amount that the distance travelled increased through these areas was similar to the overall increase in distance travelled throughout the entire Northern Canada Vessel Traffic Services (NORDREG) zone (see Canadian Coast Guard, 2021), which represents the zone of Canadian waters North of 60°, as well as southern Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay, where vessels must report their daily location and other information to the Canadian Coast Guard. It has also been found that a number of cruise ship itinerary listings fall within these culturally (CSMA) or environmentally and biologically (EBSA) significant areas. These findings show that tourist vessels often transit beyond the LISC, which raises questions about the usefulness of LISC as the single regulatory framework for all vessels. This report also highlights the concerns of Inuit and northern communities about the effects of tourist vessels accessing important cultural and/or environmental sites and disrupting subsistence activities in or near their communities. While tourist vessels have the potential to benefit Arctic communities through supporting the local economy, the findings show that community members did not always feel that they experienced these benefits. The report details community-identified recommendations that could be implemented as part of a broader management system to ensure tourist vessels have minimal negative impacts on communities and marine wildlife, while at the same time maximizing the positive impacts they could have on these communities.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages58
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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