VANCOUVER — After years of working to return habitat protection and provisions to Canada’s Fisheries Act, the David Suzuki Foundation welcomed the release of Bill C68 today. If passed, it will amend the act, bring back lost protection and introduce additional safeguards, such as restoring fish habitat and rebuilding fish stocks.
“The most important changes we were looking for are part of these amendments,” said David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy analyst Jeffery Young. “If the act is passed, it will prioritize restoring habitat protection and rebuilding depleted fish stocks, such as wild Pacific salmon,” Young said. “Without healthy habitat, fish can’t survive. These changes are important tools to fight badly degraded habitat from resource development across Canada as well as prevent species extinction.”
Under the current Fisheries Act, there were no prosecutions for fish habitat damage between 2012 and 2016. “The effectiveness of these amendments will depend on how well they are enforced,” Young said. “Additional funding announced by Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc today will help, but actual enforcement is needed. We’re also concerned that the ability to enforce fisheries closures isn’t strong enough and that the act hasn’t adequately addressed mounting concerns over the impacts of climate change and finfish aquaculture.”
Recognition of the need for long-term fisheries closures for marine protected areas, consideration for traditional ecological knowledge, and provisions for identifying ecologically sensitive areas are positive reforms. The addition of modern safeguards, such as restoring habitat and rebuilding fish stocks, is important and will be tested by large development projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.
The David Suzuki Foundation welcomed the extensive public input process and addition in the amendments of a proposed public registry. “It’s refreshing to see that our input, and the online input of thousands of our supporters, were incorporated into these amendments,” Young said. The proposed new public registry, which will provide public access to a wide range of government decisions, will improve transparency and help stop the slow but steady destruction of fish habitat in a rapidly urbanizing world.
“It’s urgent that the act gets passed quickly, given the status of many depleted fish stocks such as chinook salmon that endangered southern resident orcas rely on,” Young said. “We hope Parliament will pass the bill without delay.”
Before protections were removed in 2012, the Fisheries Act was pointed to as Canada’s strongest environmental law for its requirements that prohibits harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.
“We are still waiting to hear the details of other environmental reforms the federal government will be introducing and how these align with today’s amendments,” Young said.
The Foundation is part of a national coordinated strategy with several environmental groups working to restore Fisheries Act protections lost in 2012 under the former federal government.
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