Opposition grows to possible Fisheries Act changes

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Internal document reveals plans to remove habitat protections

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Thursday, March 15. — Photo by The Canadian Press

The Newfoundland and Lab-rador Environmental Network (NLEN) — a collective of about 40 groups operating across the province under environment-related mandates — has been buzzing with news the federal government is planning changes to environmental protections within the federal Fisheries Act.

Specifically, it has been suggested the government will limit protection of fish habitat.

Over the course of the last week, hundreds of scientists across the country have come forward to say that kind of a change will not only cripple the country’s environmental protections, but also put species at risk.

“As these rumors have been coming out, there’s been a lot of emails and phone calls and concern,” NLEN executive director Chris Hogan told The Telegram.

Put in place in the late 1860s, the Fisheries Act has been amended many times over the years. In 1986 the government of Brian Mulroney introduced the measures to protect fish habitat (Section 35(1)).

The Act states: “No person shall carry on any work or undertaking that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.”

It is typically what triggers an in-depth environmental assessment in the case of a proposed industrial development — as large projects typically involve some impact on a lake, river, stream, oceanfront or open water where fish reside.

Enter: Otto Langer.

The former Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist was apparently leaked internal documents on the changes being considered to the habitat provisions in the Act. He relayed the information with a public statement March 12, condemning what he had seen.

“The lack of mention of ‘habitat’ in the proposed draft law and the number of subjective and ambiguous words inserted into this major amendment will make any enforcement of this new law very difficult,” he wrote.

The federal government has confirmed it is considering changes to the act. However, according to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield, nothing has been decided yet.

“The government is reviewing fish and fish habitat protection policies to ensure they do not go beyond their intended conservation goals,” Ashfield has stated.

He has also said existing policies “do not reflect the priorities of Canadians.”

When asked about the review, the minister has referenced cases where legislation has caused difficulty for individuals and community organizations across the country. For example, flooding in South Montreal that resulted in a farmer being forced to buy a fishing licence in order to remove carp from his flooded fields.

Then, there was the case of the Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan, where a campsite relied upon by festival-goers was flooded. Organizers could not immediately drain the area because fish had migrated in.

Opposition explosion

“I don’t imagine the current government is suggesting changes to the Fisheries Act because of Scouts camping on a farmers’ field or something. It comes from the Tar Sands issues and all the other issues,” Queen’s University biologist John Smol told The Telegram.

“You have to wonder — if this is actually happening — where are they getting their advice? It can’t be scientists.”

Smol is one of a collection of 625 scientists who put their name to a letter sent Thursday morning to Ashfield and Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding the Fisheries Act review.

The names attached to the letter — part of a flurry of response — include 18 Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada and more than 30 holders of endowed research chairs.

They include three current assistant or associate professors from Memorial University of Newfoundland — Evan Edinger, Julie Sircon and Rudolphe Devillers — and Bruce Atkinson, formerly with DFO in Newfoundland and Labrador, now retired.

“All species, including humans, require functioning ecosystems based on healthy habitats,” said David Schindler, the lead author of the letter and the Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta.

“It is the explicit role of government to find the balance between protecting this habitat and encouraging sustainable economic growth — not to pit them against one another.”

The letter states “industrial activities already pose significant risks to fish habitat.” It adds Canada’s environmental laws, including the Fisheries Act habitat provisions, the Species at Risk Act and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, should be strengthened.

It follows a separate letter, released Monday, wherein the president of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE), an organization of more than 1,000 ecologists and evolutionary biologists opposed the suggested changes to the Fisheries Act.

“In the interests of transparency and accountability, and in the interests of Canadian society, we respectfully request that the science advice received in this regard be made publicly available without delay,” it states.

The CSEE have warned the elimination of habitat provisions from the Act will “severely impair” the country’s ability to protect aquatic species.

Fisheries Act changes not only ones being considered

Meanwhile, changes believed to be on the table come as a report from a review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act has been released.

The federal government has already indicated Canadians should expect changes to that Act, as it attempts to streamline the environmental assessment process for industrial projects.

Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver has said changes to the assessment process would be of benefit to small and large projects, by avoiding what he has characterized as unreasonable delays caused by objections from environmental groups “gaming” the process.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Newfoundland and Lab, Environmental Network DFO Langer.The former Department of Fisheries and Oceans Craven Country Jamboree Royal Society of Canada Memorial University of Newfoundland University of Alberta Migratory Birds Convention Canadian Society for Ecology

Geographic location: South Montreal, Saskatchewan, Queen Newfoundland and Labrador Canada

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Scott Mellon
    March 23, 2012 - 17:57

    I thought that crippling problems was a good thing.

  • random
    March 23, 2012 - 12:46

    I'm sure all 3 major projects; Long Harbour, Hebron and Lower Churchill will benefit from this act. Not to mention the rest of the offshore industry.

  • PHILIP C.
    March 23, 2012 - 11:46

    REMEMBER THIS PLANET IS ALL WE HAVE.ITS OUR HOME FOR ONE AND ALL.SPEAK UP,SPEAK OUT.

  • Michael
    March 23, 2012 - 10:44

    We are colony of US Big Oil, not banana republic, tar sand republic. This is the same pattern that happens in smaller 3rd world countries when foreign mining companies move in. Reduce regulatory barriers, reduce labour laws, allow foreign companies to extract and export the wealth with no consideration for local population.

  • Henry Jefford
    March 23, 2012 - 08:35

    I have a poster i picked up at the DEPT of Fisheries 30+ years ago called " ONE IN A MILLION " THE odds on cod " It shows the COD MORTALITY RATE OF ONE IN A MILLION FROM AN EGG TO A N ADULT COD OF (7) YEARS I THINK THE GOV SHOULD NOT ONLY SUPORT FISH FARMS BUT SHOULD FARM THE OCEAN , THE GOV. SHOULD HAVE A FISH HATCHERY WHERE COD FISH EGGS ARE HATCHED AND WHEN THEY ARE A LITTLE LARGER OR MATURED THEN RELEASED INTO SOME PROTECTED COVES OR BAYS WHERE THEY CAN STAND A BETTER CHANCE OF MATURING TO AN ADULT COD AND REPRODUCING

    • Casey
      March 23, 2012 - 09:43

      Henry...I think that has been tried. Didn't work well. If ottawa didn't allow over-fishing off NL we wouldn't have this problem. How many fishing boats are on the Nose and Tail at this moment?

  • Fishery Act Changes will prove catastrophic
    March 23, 2012 - 07:03

    If the Fisheries Act is allowed to be changed, get ready for Armageddon, because everywhere you will feast your eyes will be blanketed with Oil and Gas Fields, Mining Operations, Slag Ponds and Pipe Lines. If we think Environmental Cancer is rampant now, then with far less regulations, many of the dangerous pollutants will find their way into our Oceans, Lakes and Ponds, and Landfills and they will prove very detrimental to our health.

    • p earle
      March 23, 2012 - 10:29

      Am Armageddon that will make our surrounding coastal waters, the breeding nursey of our priceless fishing grounds and resource, and the beautiful pristine coastal communities where we now live a waste land of destruction, poison and deprivation. They will turn our homeland into a garbage can like that which surrounds the tar sands in Alberta. The centeral government's only concern is power for themselves and getting money from any resource in any province to support that power, regardless of what it would do that outlying province. pe

    • Chris Chafe
      March 23, 2012 - 10:57

      The two of you should work for the Sierra Club or something. You seem to forget that the "garbage can" in Alberta is what is employing 1000's and 1000's of Newfoundlanders, or would you prefer they be in NL living on welfare?

  • Casey
    March 23, 2012 - 06:59

    I understand that all fish habitat need to be protected, what I can't understand is why more people were not protesting while Ottawa allowed the banks off NL to be raped and the stocks almost wiped out. Then again NAFO continues to plunder offshore and there is not much uproar about that.

  • Ray
    March 23, 2012 - 06:59

    Aside from Dunderdale being useless federally, this will be the worst thing to happen to Newfoundland (and to a greater extent Canada) in quite some time. Changing the way environmental assessments are done to streamline the process for industry??? The act is meant to safeguard the environment FROM INDUSTRY! Outrageous! Harper needs a short little moustache under his nose, and a pair of cement loafers...