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Bill C-68 passage ushers in wave of new protections for fish, and the rivers, lakes and oceans where they live

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Environmental and conservation groups respond to modernized Fisheries Act

NEW BRUNSWICK, ONTARIO, B.C. — After almost four years of consultation and parliamentary process, environmental protections for fish and their habitat have finally been restored as a requirement under law. Bill C-68 reached the last milestone with Senate approval on June 18.

Environmental and conservation groups throughout Canada have been working to support government reforms to the Fisheries Act. Today they thank all the Ministers of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard who have worked hard over the years to strengthen one of Canada’s oldest and most important environmental laws.

The Fisheries Act will once again prohibit harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, known by the acronym HADD.

“It’s great to see the return of the HADD provision for all fish in Canada,” said Linda Nowlan, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association. “It was impossible for prosecutors to prove charges of fish habitat destruction under the old version of the law, which is why there have been zero prosecutions for this offence since 2012.”

The groups highlighted a number of important updates to the Fisheries Act included in Bill C-68:

  • Restoration of important protections for fish habitat that were weakened in 2012. The law will once again prohibit harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.
  • New requirements for rebuilding depleted or threatened fish populations. The Act will now require the government to manage fish populations sustainably and establish plans to rebuild depleted stocks.
  • More transparency around decisions to authorize and mitigate the impacts of projects or activities that may damage fish or fish habitat.
  • Mandatory review of the law every five years, creating a mechanism for adapting the law over time, which will be increasingly important as the climate changes.

“Passage of Bill C-68 is a significant, positive step for protecting fish and fish habitat in Canada,” said Tony Maas, director of the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW). “It didn’t go far as it could have, particularly on protecting water flows for fish and fish habitat, but it certainly delivers on the government’s commitment to modernize the Fisheries Act. Today is a good day for Canada’s rivers and lakes.”

“No habitat, no fish. It’s great to see habitat protection provisions returned to the Fisheries Act along with funding commitments that will move us toward greater protection and restoration of fish habitat for wild salmon and other fish throughout the country,” said Nikki Skuce, director of the Northern Confluence Initiative.

“It’s encouraging to see the requirement to rebuild depleted fish populations,” said David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy analyst Jeffery Young. “Now it is crucial to develop rebuilding plans, with timelines, for troubled stocks, including Pacific salmon.”

“The new Fisheries Act reverses the poor public policy changes made seven years ago and enshrines modern science-based decisions about fisheries management into law,” said Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “Today is a good news day for wild Atlantic salmon and the health of our river and coastal communities.”

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Contacts:     

Linda Nowlan, West Coast Environmental Law Association: 778-875-5333

Tony Maas, Forum for Leadership on Water: 519-572-9972

Nikki Skuce, Northern Confluence Initiative: 778-210-0117

Jeffery Young, David Suzuki Foundation: 250-208-8714

Lois Corbett, Conservation Council of NB: 506-458-8747