Controversial Fisheries Act changes don’t make federal budget cut

Changes that critics say would weaken the Fisheries Act were ruled out of this year’s federal budget.

Changes that critics say would weaken the Fisheries Act were ruled out of this year’s federal budget.

For nearly a month, there was heavy speculation the federal Conservatives were planning to “gut” the Fisheries Act come budget time, according to Peter Woods, director of Greenways Land Trust.

However, when the budget came down on Thursday, predicted changes to the legislation never surfaced.

Woods says that’s welcome news to Greenways, a local conservation organization.

“Riverites can be confident that their favourite trout and salmon streams will remain untouched,” Woods says.

Woods was concerned about the livelihood of fish living in local streams after former federal scientist Otto Langer last month revealed that government documents had been leaked to him indicating the Conservatives were planning to remove the word ‘habitat’ from the Canada Fisheries Act.

Woods says that would have allowed industry to expand into habitat areas currently protected by the Fisheries Act.

Langer’s admission set off alarm bells across the country. More than 600 Canadian scientists asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper to abandon plans to remove habitat protections from the Fisheries Act, as well as thousands of people across the country who signed petitions and sent letters to Ottawa expressing their opposition.

Woods says, “the Greenways Land Trust is pleased that the government heard this loud, collective voice and decided to stay the course on fish habitat protection.”

But the battle may not be over yet.

Fisheries and Ocean Minister Keith Ashfield confirmed the Conservatives are looking at the wording of the legislation, which in the past has presented barriers to a country jamboree trying to use newly flooded fields and to a farmer trying to drain his flooded field.

“Current fisheries policies go well beyond what is required to protect fish and fish habitat,” Ashfield says. “The government is reviewing fish and fish habitat protection policies to ensure they do not go beyond their intended conservation goals.”

Melanie Carkner, spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans, confirmed Monday “that nothing has changed” and the Fisheries Act is still under review.

Still, Woods says he’s pleased the legislation has been untouched.

“I think all concerned were just pleased nothing was changed and no news was good news.”