COMOX, BC--(Marketwired - June 30, 2016) - On the campaign trail in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to mend some of the Harper-era damage done to marine protections -- and by all appearances they've begun the process. Fisheries and Oceans is on a scientist-hiring spree, and last week the government announced their plans to protect more of Canada's coastline from commercial activities such as drilling and fishing -- 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020.
But as Joyce Nelson writes in her article DFO Libraries recently published in the Watershed Sentinel, the "chaotic process" of the culling of seven DFO libraries in 2013 resulted in the loss of more than 30% of the libraries' years of records and literature -- the very information that can be needed to meaningfully and effectively restore and enforce legislation that protects wild fish and their habitat.
Nelson investigates the controversial question of whether the DFO libraries were culled in 2013 on the basis of a changed DFO mandate enacted in 2012 by Bill C-38. That legislation gutted the Fisheries Act and amended what's known as "the HADD section" of the Act that prohibited the "harmful alteration or disruption or the destruction of fish habitat." She quotes former DFO Minister Gail Shea: "Documents that are not required to support the mandate of the Department are no longer available in the DFO libraries."
The loss of scientific records regarding habitat management, ocean contaminants and marine toxicology -- no longer considered part of the DFO mandate as of 2012 -- would make it more difficult to reintroduce those responsibilities now. Researchers at Oceana Canada have already encountered problems, finding that their work on a comprehensive report on the state of Canadian fish stocks (released last week) was impaired by old, incomplete or inaccessible federal research -- ultimately meaning the health of nearly half of the country's commercial fish stocks remains a mystery.
The federal government's announcement last week that they will undertake a review of environmental and regulatory processes -- including the Fisheries Act -- raises the question of how far they're willing to go in terms of restoring DFO's mandate to protect wild fish habitat. As Nelson writes, "Many DFO scientists, librarians, and at least 200,000 library 'items' are gone, but one thing can immediately be reinstated. PM Justin Trudeau's Mandate Letter to former Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo listed top priorities, including: 'Work with the Minister of Transport to review the previous government's changes to the Fisheries and Navigable Waters Protection Acts, restore lost protections, and incorporate modern safeguards.' Others want the government to even further. Otherwise, the Fisheries Act won't be fully protecting wild fish."
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