How well are we protecting fish and their habitat in BC? The numbers are not encouraging. The combined salmon catch for 1995 and 1996 is the lowest of any two year period in the last 35 years. Destruction of crucial fish habitat and reduced genetic diversity of fish stocks are contributing to the decline in fisheries. A recent survey of the status of anadromous salmon stocks from streams in BC and the Yukon found that 140 salmon runs were extinct and another 624 were at high risk of extinction. The BC/Washington Marine Science Panel's 1994 report on marine waters rated destruction, alteration or degradation of habitat as the highest environmental priority for the region because the impacts are irreversible, the potential harm to the environmental is great, and habitat losses are highly preventable.
As the population of BC expands, and as development and pollution increase, fish habitat in urban areas decline. In 1997, urban streams were awarded the top spot on the list of the province's ten most endangered rivers. And a recent report from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans documents the continued deterioration of streams in the Lower Fraser Valley: of the 671 significant streams that existed in the area in 1860, 120 no longer exist and most of the remaining streams are under significant stress.
In response to concerns about the decline in fisheries, BC and Canada have been negotiating over the past year to clarify some issues surrounding fish and fish habitat management. First, a Memorandum of Understanding on Fisheries Issues signed by Canada and British Columbia on July 15, 1996, recognizes that the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia share a mutual interest in conserving and enhancing the salmon resource and both governments agree that changes are necessary in the structure and management of the fisheries sector in order to achieve this goal.
More recently, the Canada-British Columbia Agreement on the Management of Pacific Salmon Fishery Issues was signed on April 16, 1997. A new federal/provincial Habitat Protection and Fisheries Enforcement Agreement will also be developed. A joint Canada/BC Council of Fisheries Ministers is established. One of the most important parts of the Agreement commits both governments to strengthen habitat protection legislation.
The purpose of this brief is to discuss issues raised by Bill 25, the Fish Protection Act 1997, and in particular, to discuss how well the Bill improves legal protection for fish habitat.