Fish Habitat Protection Removed by Canadian Federal Government

Canadian (Nov 17, 2013) — The Canadian Federal government is at it again, they do two things right and then one big dumb mistake: by changing the legislation on fisheries habitat. Scientists at the universities of Calgary and Dalhousie reported this in a new study. They say that the changes will eviscerated the ability to protect habitat for most of the country’s fish species. Now, were the changes made by sound scientific advice? Were they based on looking at the whole ecosystems’ interactions? No, but probably politically based…

Fisheries biologists John Post and Jeffrey Hutchings presented their paper called “Gutting Canada’s Fisheries Act: No fishery, no fish habitat protection.” This is published in Fisheries, a journal of American Fisheries Society. John Post stated: “The biggest change is that habitat protection has been removed for all species other than those that have direct economic or cultural interests, through recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries. There used to be a blanket habitat protection for all fish species. Now there’s a protection just for species of economic importance which, from an ecological standpoint, makes no sense.”

In their paper, they showed numerous studies that demonstrated that by not protecting fish habitat is the “single greatest factor” for a decline and/or loss of fish species. This applies to both the commercial and non-commercial fish industry. Obviously the federal government wasn’t looking at the whole ecosystem. The changes in the Fisheries Act removed the “mandated legal protection” for fish habitat. At the present time, there are about 80 species of fish that are in decline, or endangered. These changes will remove the protection for about ¾ of them. They “are not going to receive the protection that they did in the past,” Post says.

One excuse that the federal government is using is that it wants to cut red tape and make the environmental reviews more efficient. Interestingly, Post and Hutchings found that between 2006 and 2011, there was only one proposal that was rejected out of a thousand by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. They also found that of the 1.236 convictions under the previous Fisheries Act, only 1.6% pertained to fish habitat destruction. Were the environmental reviews taking too long, no.

Now, there were some much needed improvements under the Fisheries Act that are good. Finally they put into law: recognizing recreational and Aboriginal fisheries, policies on invasive species, and increased fines. But, at the same time they closed Fisheries and Ocean offices and cut 30% of the fisheries personnel. Post said; “so they no longer have the capacity to police infractions.”

Their paper went on to say: “Politically motivated dismantling of habitat protection provisions in the Fisheries Act erases 40 years of enlightened and responsible legislation and diminishes Canada’s ability to fulfill its national and international obligations to protect, conserve, and sustainably use aquatic biodiversity”
Both scientists’ research is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Hutchings is a former chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada while Post is a current member.