PROTECT AND CONSULT: Restore habitat protection in Canada’s Fisheries Act now

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We support the immediate reinstatement of strong habitat protection into Canada’s Fisheries Act that was removed without consulting Indigenous peoples, scientific evidence or public participation. We call on the government to bring back habitat protection so that the Act says: “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat.”

The Mandate Letter for the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard includes the following as a top priority: “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.”

The government has the mandate and a powerful opportunity to implement a quick and high profile environmental win by reinstating the changes to the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act and putting resources into monitoring and enforcement. Quite simply, you can’t protect fish without protecting habitat. Once in place, the government can do a full-scale review with thorough public consultation to bring this essential piece of legislation in line with modern fisheries laws and scientific principles.

On the three occasions over the past decade that the federal government attempted to reform the Fisheries Act, public support for change was high. But there was resounding opposition to the changes that ended up being made, with zero public consultation, through the two omnibus “budget” bills, C-38 and C-45, which amended the Fisheries Act to weaken fish habitat protection, remove protection of some species of fish and broaden government’s powers to allow harm to fish and their habitat. Opposition included former fisheries Ministers, First Nations, fishing and wildlife organizations, and environmental groups. Canada’s leading aquatic and fisheries scientists also spoke up against the amendments.1

We call on Minister LeBlanc and the Canadian federal government to fix the error made by weakening fish habitat protection in 2012 and then move forward with engagement on other changes needed to enhance stewardship and ensure the long-term sustainability of Canada’s vibrant aquatic ecosystems.

1 McDevitt-Irwin, Jamie Marie, et al. "Missing the safety net: evidence for inconsistent and insufficient management of at-risk marine fishes in Canada." Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 72.10 (2015): 1596-1608.Favaro, Brett, John D. Reynolds, and Isabelle M. Côté. "Canada’s weakening aquatic protection." Science 337.6091 (2012): 154. Hutchings, Jeffrey A., and John R. Post. "Gutting Canada's Fisheries Act: no fishery, no fish habitat protection." Fisheries 38.11 (2013): 497-501. Bailey, Megan, et al. "Canada at a crossroad: The imperative for realigning ocean policy with ocean science." Marine Policy 63 (2016): 53-60.