Outdoor groups worried that Federal budget may “gut” Fisheries Act
Outdoor organizations, scientists and environmental groups are expressing deep concerns about revisions to the Fisheries Act, rumoured to be part of the March 29 federal budget.
Under the banner of fast-tracking environmental approval for resource extraction projects and other development, the government appears set to remove a decades-old requirement in the Fisheries Act protecting all fish habitats. Instead, the Act will protect only ”fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.”
“Who will take on the role of God and decide which fish are of value?” said Conrad Fennema, president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, in letters to the Prime Minister, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Premier of Alberta. “We suggest that all fish species are of value in the big picture as every species plays a role in the survival of the next one up the chain.”
First passed in 1867, the Fisheries Act is considered by many to be Canada’s strongest and most successful conservation legislation. The Act has been strengthened several times over the years, most notably in 1986 when the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney brought in key measures to protect fish habitat.
“Eliminating habitat protection will set us back decades, making it easier to ram through big industrial projects,” said NDP MP Fin Donnelly, who represents New Westminster-Coquitlam & Port Moody, B.C.
The proposed changes come as a surprise, both to conservation organizations and apparently even staff within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The revisions were brought to light by retired DFO fisheries ecologist Otto Langer who, in mid-March, received leaked documents indicating the government may water down the legislation.
Additionally, replacing references to habitat with “fish of economic, cultural or ecological value,” will make make the legislation difficult to enforce by introducing vague and obscure wording, Langer said. “If you can’t prove any of those values exist, you can’t take anyone to court,” he told the Globe and Mail newspapaer. “This is top down from Ottawa, with no public consultation and no consultation within DFO.”
“Giving no consideration to the habitat surrounding a fishery will most certainly result in a deterioration of water quality which ultimately will jeopardize many important fisheries and, potentially, watersheds,” said the AFGA’s Fennema. “If anything, laws should be strengthened to protect our dwindling fisheries.”
Check OutdoorCanada.ca for updates as this story unfolds.