Canada’s Fisheries Act

The federal Fisheries Act, enacted almost 150 years ago, is one of the oldest pieces of environmental legislation in Canada. In 1977, under Pierre Trudeau’s government, the Act was amended to include habitat protection. Until 2012, this legislation empowered the federal government to protect oceans, clean water and fish habitat.

The Fisheries Act used to state that:

“no person shall carry out any work or undertaking that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat.”

But then ...

When the federal Conservative government passed omnibus Bill C-38, it cut a number of pieces of environmental legislation including amending section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act to weaken fish habitat protection. The legislation also removed protection of some fish species, and broadened government powers to allow more exemptions for harm to fish and fish habitat. In a nutshell, Canada went from protecting habitat to protecting fisheries.

“Habitat destruction is the most common reason for species decline. All ecologists and fisheries scientists around the world agree on these fundamental points, and the Fisheries Act has been essential to protecting fish habitats and the fisheries they support in Canada.”

The fix

We need habitat protection put back into the Fisheries Act. Restoring fish habitat protection is a quick and easy first step to reversing Harper’s changes in 2012. An amendment to section 35(1) along with strengthening monitoring and enforcement of the Act will ensure the long-term stewardship of Canada’s vibrant aquatic ecosystems.

The federal Liberal government has committed to:

“conduct a wholesale review of Harper’s amendments to the Fisheries Act and other legislative changes, incorporating modern safeguards to protect our oceans and freshwater fish habitat.”

NGOs, First Nations and scientists are calling on the federal government to put habitat protection provisions immediately back into the Fisheries Act, along with stronger monitoring and enforcement. Read the letter to see who signed on.

Canada’s Review of the Fisheries Act

At the beginning of the summer, the Government of Canada initiated a review of the Fisheries Act and the processes that govern freshwater protection (see Fish Habitat Protection). The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently hearing from expert witnesses and reviewing briefing documents regarding the future of the Fisheries Act. They will submit a final report with recommendations to Parliament the end of February 2017.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has also created the online portal letstalkfishhabitat.ca where citizens can share their views on the Ideas Forum.

New legislation is expected to be drafted in the Spring and tabled in September 2017.