Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

December 13, 2006 15:41 ET

Canada's New Government to Modernize the Fisheries Act

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - Dec. 13, 2006) - A proposed overhaul of the 138-year-old Fisheries Act was tabled in the House of Commons today by the Honourable Loyola Hearn, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The new Act would modernize the way fisheries are managed, and enshrine conservation measures that protect the aquatic ecosystems to ensure long-term sustainable fisheries for Canadian commercial, Aboriginal and recreational fishers.

Highlights of the bill include: expanded roles for fishery participants in decision making; the adoption of clear principles dedicated to sustainable development; and a new sanctions system to be called the Canada Fisheries Tribunal that is aimed at promoting more responsible fishing behaviour.

"The current Fisheries Act was enacted in 1868 and it is still powerful and effective in some regards. But everyone agrees it's showing its age," Minister Hearn said. "The Act was in place before British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the North were part of Canada. Canadian industry has changed over the past century while the Fisheries Act has not. Science has made huge progress, while the Act stayed the same. Now is the time to get it right."

The bill stems from extensive cross-country consultations and discussions. Earlier this fall, provincial and territorial fisheries ministers unanimously urged the federal government to table legislation that recognizes their important role in fisheries management, and which provides greater stability, transparency and predictability in fishery access and allocation.

Most importantly, the new Act reaffirms and strengthens the cornerstone of the original Fisheries Act, which is the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat.

"My duty is to protect biological diversity and conserve fish habitat. This principle is now clearly spelled out as a pillar of proper fisheries management," Minister Hearn said. "These changes would require me and all future ministers of Fisheries and Oceans to take into account the protection of fish and fish habitat when decisions are made."

The fishing industry is essential to the economic prosperity of hundreds of coastal communities. The national fishery and aquaculture industries provide more than 80,000 jobs. Upwards of $4.3 billion in fish products are exported annually. An estimated four million recreational and sports fishers inject about $7 billion every year into the economy.

"A renewed Act will recognize the importance of the role of provinces, territories and stakeholders in decision making," Minister Hearn said. "Simply put, it increases the direct influence of fishers over matters that affect their livelihoods."

"We have taken the words "absolute discretion" out of the Act," Minister Hearn said. "So while the Minister is still ultimately responsible for decisions, he or she would need to officially consider a wide range of information prior to a decision being made."

Previous consultations showed the popularity of an arms-length administrative tribunal for dealing with fishery licence infractions. Composed of fisheries experts, the tribunal would deal with offenders in a manner that is faster and more efficient than the potentially slower and more expensive court system. The tribunal could deal with issues such as the exceeding of quotas or catching undersized fish.

An expanded ticketing system in coastal fisheries - like driving fines for speeding - would also be handled by the tribunal. Poaching, offences against fish habitat and infractions in inland fisheries would remain in the court system.

"We need more clout to deal with people who step out of line. Cheaters need to know they could have their licences revoked by the new tribunal," Minister Hearn said.

Technical Briefing

Senior DFO officials will hold a technical briefing for media Thursday, December 14 at 200 Kent St, Ottawa, at 12:15 pm EST. Interested reporters who cannot attend may join by teleconference by dialing 1-888-265-0903 and providing this conference code 042987.



The Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act is the federal law that governs the management of fisheries and the protection of fish habitat in Canada. It was first enacted in 1868, before all the provinces and territories on Canada's three coasts had entered Confederation, and before modern fishing technology had even been dreamt of. The 138-year old Act has been amended occasionally over the years, but never given a thorough overhaul to bring it up to date.

Why a New Act?

The fishing industry is an important economic base in Canada's coastal communities, providing jobs and opportunities for generations. More than 80,000 Canadians earn their livings directly at sea, on inland waters, in processing plants or in aquaculture operations. It's a big business, with annual wild harvest and aquaculture production of about $2.8 billion. But Canada's fisheries are confronting and adapting to a number of challenges: environmental changes; dramatic market shifts; cyclical variations in the abundance of key stocks; and the rapid expansion of other industries that use oceans. This has forced Canada's fisheries to evolve at a pace that leaves the ability of the old legislative tools to manage this key industry in its wake.

About seven years ago, DFO began a series of consultations to begin building a modern fisheries management regime that meets the challenges of the 21st century. Through extensive consultations with provinces, territories, fishing interests, Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders, DFO discovered there is broad support for the principles of a modernized Fisheries Act. Now it's time to act.

The New Fisheries Act

The new Fisheries Act will:

- require that impacts on fish and fish habitat be factored into all licensing and allocation decisions, making conservation a cornerstone of fisheries management;
- give fishers a greater voice in how their fisheries are managed, but also hold them jointly responsible for ensuring fisheries are well-managed;
- enable long-term access and allocation, increasing stability for fishers so they can better plan their operations; and
- create an administrative sanctions tribunal to deal with the majority of Fisheries Act violations, lessening reliance on the criminal courts.

What Will Be Different

Safeguarding Aquatic Ecosystems: More than ever, the fishing industry is dependent on the conservation of the resource. Without a healthy, sustainable resource, there can be no long-term fishing activities. The Act strengthens our ability to conserve and protect fish habitat. The general prohibition on the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat remains the cornerstone of DFO's fish habitat program.

Ensuring Compliance: Currently, most Fisheries Act offences - even minor ones -- are dealt with in the criminal courts. This is potentially both lengthy and costly.

The new Act would allow certain offences to be dealt with by applying sanctions to fishing licences, such as reductions in quotas, licence suspensions and fines. It would also provide clear guidance for applying Alternative Measures Agreements as a method of dealing with some infractions, avoiding use of the criminal courts. They would be available to individuals who are prepared to accept responsibility for fishery and habitat offences and who are ready to take steps to remedy the wrong.

Shared Stewardship: The people of the fishing industry deserve a say in the decisions being made about their industry upon which they rely for their livelihood. They should have a more active role in managing the resource for the future. The new Act would provide a legislated basis for developing legally binding agreements with fishing groups that would clearly define a shared management role for industry. Specifically, the Act would enable groups to take on a larger role and would also specify harvesting rules, programs, services and funding arrangements via conservation harvesting plans.

Access and Allocations: Everyone in the fishing industry depends on stability and predictability to plan for the future. Commercial fishers describe the current process for determining access and allocation as unstable and unpredictable. At the same time, they want the Minister to retain authority over access and allocations. To properly plan, fishers need to know that they have long-term access to a particular fishery and what their share of the resource will be. The new Act provides a legal mechanism to the Minister to set allocations up to 15 years for fleets and groups in commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries in marine waters. It would also allow the Minister to rescind, change or replace an allocation in certain circumstances, such as to meet conservation needs, subject to processes set by law.

Additional information and backgrounders on the modernized Fisheries Act can be found on the DFO website at

Contact Information

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa
    Phil Jenkins
    Media Relations
    Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
    Office of the Minister
    Steve Outhouse, Director of Communications