Ottawa restores Fisheries Act measures “gutted” by Harper

Amendments to Fisheries act restores funding, protective measures

Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc: restoring protection and confidence in Fisheries Act.

The federal government will restore more than $280 million in funding cut by the Stephen Harper government to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, ban the capture of whales and dolphins, restore protective measures for fish and fish habitat and adopt more of a co-management approach with indigenous people.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc was in Vancouver Tuesday, February 6, to announce amendments to the Fisheries Act, following the introduction of a new bill.

The changes are largely intended to replace protective measures that had been removed, with little transparency or debate, through the Stephen Harper government’s omnibus budget bills.

The government plans to increases funding to Fisheries and Oceans by $284 million to allow for things like the hiring of additional front-line fisheries officers.

Some of the controversy over pipelines and the now-defunct Pacific NorthWest LNG project was exacerbated by the weakening of the Fisheries Act.

“They stripped most of these basic protections and cut the associated funding necessary to properly enforce them,” LeBlanc said.

The amendments restore the safeguards against “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction” (HADD) that had been “gutted” from the Fisheries Act, said West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL)

“We are very glad to see the return of HADD… and congratulate the government on repairing this hole in the torn legal safety net for Canadian fish,” WCEL lawyer Linda Nowlan said in a press release.

“Whether it’s salmon, cod, lobster or crab, all fish need healthy waters free from excessive human influence. The amendments announced today show that the government is reaffirming the importance of not only protecting fish, but the habitat they rely on.”

The new measures give fisheries managers the authority to quickly implement short-term measures “to effectively respond to unforeseen threats” to fish and habitat.

The amendments do not specifically mention fish farms, but when asked what the impact of the changes might mean for aquaculture in B.C. – where salmon farms are a lightning rod for some First Nations, activists and politicians – LeBlanc said only that there needs to be greater transparency around fish farms.

“I have said publicly to the aquaculture industry that they need to raise their game,” he said.

He said the government will demand more transparency around things like scientific assessments when it comes to aquaculture.

LeBlanc added his government has asked its chief science adviser to assemble a panel of experts to examine how science informs decisions around aquaculture.

Fish farming is jointly management by the provincial and federal government, with the province issuing tenures and the federal government issuing licences.

There is currently a provincial moratorium on fish farm expansions in B.c. and the provincial government is still studying the recommendations of a special advisory panel on salmon farms.

The amendments will give First Nations greater say in both fish habitat protection and in development projects that may have an impact.

Asked if that translates into a de facto veto for First Nations, LeBlanc said: “I don’t think it’s constructive to speak in terms of veto powers. What we hope to do, and what we’re doing in a number of cases, is co-management with indigenous people.”

As for the ban on capturing cetaceans (whales and dolphins), it will apply only if the purpose is to keep them in aquariums. It does not apply to live capture of injured cetaceans.