West Coast Environmental Law

November 25, 2013 06:00 ET

Fisheries Act Amendments Brought Into Force Despite Widespread Opposition

Former fisheries ministers, scientists and public concerned changes will hurt fish and local economies

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - Nov. 25, 2013) - Today, after an almost 18 month delay, Canada is bringing into force changes to the federal Fisheries Act that have faced widespread and persistent opposition and First Nations' legal challenges since they were introduced in last year's omnibus Bills C-38 and C-45. The amendments, which weaken legal protections for fish and their habitat, have been broadly criticized as having passed without proper parliamentary debate or public consultation, and for being motivated by pressure from resource industries.

When it introduced the amendments, the federal government claimed the changes would benefit businesses and municipalities. For many coastal communities and businesses, however, the changes bring greater uncertainty and risk.

"I have been up and down the coast explaining these amendments, and what I am hearing is that today's Fisheries Act amendments are bad news for many local businesses," says Anna Johnston, Staff Counsel at West Coast Environmental Law Association. "Coastal economies are often heavily reliant on water and fish, both of which are put at risk by these changes."

Enacted in 1868, the Fisheries Act was widely considered to be one of the most important environmental laws in the country.

"Many of Canada's fish species will lose their legal protection as a result of these changes," says Johnston. "The changes will also allow more harm to fish habitat. It's a much weaker act in terms of protection."

Legal changes in force today eliminate protection for many fish species as well as a long- standing legal prohibition on disruption of fish habitat.

"As any sensible person knows, if you want to protect fish, you have to look after their habitat. Moving away from this approach abandons good science and as a consequence good public policy," says the Honourable John Fraser, Canada's fisheries minister in 1984-85. "I've yet to see any compelling evidence from the federal government to support its assertions that their changes to the Fisheries Act are going to be better for habitat and better for fish."

Scientists argue that the changes will expose fish to harm that could put them at risk.

"The changes allow temporary harm to be done to fish habitat, which could effectively wipe out certain species, like pink salmon, that have short life-cycles," says Dr. Ken Ashley, Director of the Rivers Institute at BCIT.

Last year, Fraser and other former fisheries ministers Tom Siddon, David Anderson and Herb Dhaliwal, who served in both Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing their alarm about proposed changes to the Fisheries Act. They never received a reply.

Turning a deaf ear to widespread scientific and public concern, Cabinet has passed an Order bringing the amendments into force today.

Contact Information

  • For comment:
    Honourable John Fraser
    604-908-1733

    Dr. Ken Ashley
    604-432-8270

    Anna Johnston
    West Coast Environmental Law Association
    604-340-2304
    www.wcel.org

    To arrange interviews:
    West Coast Environmental Law Association
    Jeanette Ageson
    604-601-2511
    www.envirolawsmatter.ca