All fish and fish habitat could once again be protected in the Fisheries Act.
Parliament is debating amendments to the act under Bill C-68 that include protection for all fish and fish habitat, clearer permitting for development projects, ability to enshrine inshore fishing policies into regulations, a better ability to protect biodiversity long-term, incorporating Indigenous traditional knowledge into decisions and increasing focus on habitat restoration and rebuilding fish stocks.
Cynthia Bendickson, executive director at Greenways Land Trust, said she is relieved that protection of fish habitat is to be put back into the Fisheries Act and she hopes that local enforcement of fish habitat is restored as soon as possible in Campbell River.
However, Rachel Blaney, North Island MP, is concerned that the proposed amendments are not enough.
“This legislation is a good start but I fear the government does not go far enough to address protection,” she said during debate on Feb. 13.
Blaney said she is happy that the legislation is specific in what it wants to guard against and that there is conversation about harm, altercation and destruction of fish habitat. She is also pleased that the proposed legislation includes all fish in its definition of fisheries.
However, she hopes that the minister will consider any adverse affects this proposed legislation could have on the rights of Indigenous people and she is concerned that the proposed changes do not address the what she calls “the conflicting mandates” of conserving wild salmon while promoting salmon farming.
“We will need to be vigilant on the regulations still to come to ensure that an ecologically significant area will truly be protected,” she said.
In a follow up interview, Blaney also expressed concern over the harvesting of shellfish.
“If 100 people show up at the same beach, they can do that, and that is a rising concern across our riding for sure,” she said.
Blaney said that the NDP will be supporting the Bill and once it has passed first reading it will go to a committee to be further discussed and developed.
At the moment, the proposed changes include protection to all fish and fish habitat as well as a number of modern safeguards.
One such proposed safeguard is to use Indigenous traditional knowledge to inform habitat decisions as well as a requirement to consider adverse effects of decisions on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
The Bill also proposes provisions recognizing social, economic and cultural factors as well as the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries when making decisions.
Another proposed amendment is the ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to fisheries and the conservation of fish.
With more flexibility short-term the proposed amendments would also give the ability to create long-term area-based restrictions on fishing activities in order to protect marine biodiversity.
If Bill C-68 was passed as it currently stands, there would be a prohibition on fishing for cetaceans (such as whales) with intent to take them into captivity unless authorized by the minister in circumstances where the animal is injured, in distress or in need of care.
The proposed changes would also allow the ministry the ability to address Fisheries Act offences outside of courts using alternated measures agreements in order to reduce costs and repeat offences.
Should the bill pass as is, there would also be enhanced enforcement and monitoring capacity on the water and for projects.