Posted on November 28, 2012 (updated: November 28, 2012)

Fisheries Act changes sacrifices environment, paves way for energy, mining development

VANCOUVER — The federal government’s plans to amend the Fisheries Act, announced today, are another attack on the legal framework that protects Canada’s environment, Ecojustice said today.

“These changes are part of the federal government’s broader efforts to systematically dismantle Canada’s environmental laws and to promote energy and mining development at all costs,” said Lara Tessaro, Ecojustice staff lawyer.

While details were lacking, the government announced that it intends to narrow and limit environmental protection for fish and fish habitat in Canada, by removing protection for lakes, streams and rivers that government officials deem to be “non-vital” or “minor waters.”

“To exclude certain fish habitats from the Fisheries Act makes no ecological sense and will undermine environmental protection in this country. Rather than having the government pick and chose which water bodies deserve to be protected, we say that Canada’s lakes, rivers, streams and creeks all deserve legal protection from harmful activities,” said Tessaro.

It had been previously leaked that the government intended to amend section 35 of the Act to remove all protection for fish habitat. Today’s announcement suggests that the government has had to backtrack on that point – but also indicates that the government may be abdicating its responsibility to protect habitat in other ways

Unfortunately, today’s announcement indicates a continued intention to compromise and weaken protection of Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams — despite the widespread, long-standing recognition that healthy, productive fish stocks require a wide variety of habitats and ecosystems to survive and to thrive.

“It is bizarre for the government to suggest that it needs to narrow or weaken our laws and regulations to protect Canada’s fisheries,” said Margot Venton, Ecojustice staff lawyer. The Fisheries Act is already too discretionary. Rather than weaken the Act to appease industrial interests, it must be strengthened to guarantee protection for lakes, rivers and streams — not just for fish, but for the people and businesses that depend on fish.”

The Federal Courts have recently recognized, in decisions regarding habitat protection for British Columbia’s endangered resident killer whales, that the Fisheries Act is too discretionary to provide any legal protection to at-risk aquatic species. Currently, the legislation allows DFO bureaucrats to sanction the destruction of key fish habitats.

According to a government briefing provided to industry and municipal stakeholders, the government intends to exempt allegedly “minor works” from the Fisheries Act, and to allow any development project that it deems “minor” to harm or destroy fish habitat.


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