The Canadian federal government in Ottawa has announced plans to amend the Fisheries Act as part of a series of measures to enforce new laws protecting habitat wherever fish are present. Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc has announced that $284.2 million will be made available over the next five years and has pledged to “restore lost protection” for fish habitats that were lost under the previous Harper government.
A number of amendments to the Fisheries Act have been introduced in Canada’s House of Commons on February 6th seeking to expand the reach of a prohibition against anything that alters or impacts fish habitat to all waters where fish exist.
“No habitat means no fish” said LeBlanc as he announced the amendments as part of a long-promised revision to the Fisheries Act, covering fish, shellfish, crustaceans and marine animals. The new legislative proposals come as Ottawa overhauls a number of environmental and regulatory processes, with the ruling Liberal government rolling back a controversial policy of the previous Conservative-led administration.
In 2012, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government introduced omnibus legislation prohibiting activities that affected fish in commercial, recreational or indigenous fisheries. At the time, the move was explained by the Conservatives as it would mean that farmers would no longer have to contend with onerous red tape to clear out drainage ditches or alter what they may consider to be insignificant bodies of water. Speaking in Ottawa on February 6th, officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada have expressed that the 2012 legislation had resulted in a great deal of confusion about exactly what projects would require a federal government assessment, because it wasn’t always clear which fish needed protection and which didn’t.
Under the new proposals, the government intends to produce regulations that will identify exactly which projects will require a federal assessment and ministerial permit before they are able to proceed. The legislation will also make it illegal to capture whales, dolphins or porpoises in Canadian waters for the purpose of keeping them in captivity. Existing permits for such activities will be honoured, but in the future only animals captured because they are in distress, injured or in need of care can be held in captivity in Canada.
The plans to amend the Fisheries Act are part of a series of changes by the government to the federal environmental assessment process and fulfils a mandate item issued to Dominic LeBlanc when he took up the ministerial position.