Habitat protection, supply management key concerns in review of Canada’s Fisheries Act

Canada’s Fisheries Act, last amended by the Conservative government in 2012, now clearly needs review.  Sustaining Canada’s Major Fish Stocks , a highly critical audit of the management and conservation activities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was released by the Commissioner on Environment and Sustainable Development on October 4.  The response by  New Brunswick EcoAction  states, “Several of the gaps and failings identified in the report can be addressed by a commitment to modernizing the Fisheries Act …. In other developed fishing nations, the fisheries legislation includes provisions for stock rebuilding and targets and timelines to guide this work. Canada’s Fisheries Act has none of this, not even references to the precautionary or ecosystem approaches to fisheries management – which have been enshrined in international law for over 20 years.”  The CBC  summary of the report was blunt:  Another cod-like collapse possible . Keith Sullivan, President of Fish Food and Allied Workers union (Unifor) appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans at the end of September,  explaining the union’s position about the competitive need for quality more than quantity, in order for the cod fishing industry to rebound. At present, 32  union harvesters are part of a research project to determine the best new techniques required to achieve this.

The Standing Committee has also been holding hearings into the Wild Atlantic Salmon . Advocacy group  EcoJustice has launched a court case challenging  the approval of genetically modified salmon  in Prince Edward Island under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and a separate case against the Minister of Fisheries regarding B.C.’s salmon . West Coast Environment Law  has recently written about the threat to salmon habitat from the approval of the Pacific North West LNG project in B.C. , with a full brief,  Scaling up the Fisheries Act , which argues for changes to the legislation to identify and protect essential fish habitat .

On October 18, the federal government announced a public consultation as part of the government’s review of the Fisheries Act, part  of the larger  Review of Environmental and Regulatory Processes .  The Let’s Talk Fish Habitat website  provides information and an opportunity to submit ideas.

Controversial New Water Legislation Introduced in B.C.

The B.C. Government introduced Bill 18, the Water Sustainability Act, on March 11th. It updates the current legislation passed in 1909, and “will bring groundwater into the licensing system, and will expand government’s ability to protect fish and aquatic environments “. See http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/ for the legislation and all supporting documents.

In a November 2013 posting during the lengthy consultation phase, the government had outlined how the proposed changes would impact oil and gas development, including a pledge that “in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations” (see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2013/11/14/blog-post-6-water-and-oil-gas-development/). Yet on March 19, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. went before the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that Encana has systematically avoided the current water licensing regulations by applying to the provincial Oil and Gas Commission for repeated “short term” water permits for fracking (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/encana-s-water-permits-for-b-c-fracking-illegal-lawsuit-alleges-1.2578788).

The aspect of pricing commercial and industrial water use has been deferred by a period of further consultations; see the consultation paper, Pricing B.C.’s Water, at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/files/2014/03/Pricing-B.C.s-Water.pdf. Public comments will be accepted until April 8th.