Regulations allow ministers to blanket-authorize pollution in fish-bearing waters despite widespread opposition, say environmental lawyers
VANCOUVER – This week, the federal government passed regulations allowing the Fisheries and Environment Ministers to give blanket-authorization to pollute in fish-bearing waters in a wide range of circumstances, including for aquaculture purposes.
Section 36(3) of the Fisheries Act prohibits dumping pollutants, such as drugs, aquatic pesticides and biochemical oxygen-demanding matter, into waters where fish occur, except with a permit. The new Regulations allow the Ministers to exempt a broad range of pollution from that prohibition, including:
- Where the pollution is related to aquaculture, aquatic invasive species or species that are considered pests to a fishery;
- Where the pollution is related to research; and
- Where the pollution either falls under, or is emitted by something that falls under, other federal or provincial regulations or guidelines.
If such regulations are made, a permit would not be required to pollute.
“Deregulating pollution in fish-bearing waters is short-sighted and irresponsible,” says Jessica Clogg, Executive Director and senior counsel at the West Coast Environmental Law Association. “They represent yet another attempt by the federal government to abdicate its responsibility to Canadians to protect fish and fish habitat.”
The Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement that accompanied the Regulations states they will bring greater certainty to industry. Many members of the public, including fishing groups, expressed concern that the regulations would reduce oversight of potentially harmful pollution.
"What we really need is certainty that our rivers, lakes, and oceans are protected," says Anna Johnston, staff counsel at the West Coast Environmental Law Association. “Permitting ensures that the regulators are aware of the pollution, allows site-specific considerations to be taken into account and allows for adjustments if any unwanted harms happen. What these regulations really enable is the government’s ability to turn a blind eye.”
West Coast Environmental Law Association