Canadian Municipal Water eBulletin

Everything old is new again: The future of the Fisheries Act

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As part of their overall review of the environmental assessment process a Standing Committee also reviewed the 2012 amendments to the Fisheries Act, and a report  was tabled on their findings on February 24, 2017.
This report proved something of a "back to the future" review of the changes brought to the Act by the Harper government. Notably, the committee recommended that section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act return to its wording as of 29 June 2012 which reads: "No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in the harmful alteration or disruption, or the destruction, of fish habitat" – a clause which had been frequently invoked when charges were laid in response to water pollution.

According to several witnesses, the 2012 section 35 amendments brought in by the previous Harper government had limited the application of the section to more important fish-bearing waters and had not only weakened protections, but had also introduced new levels of confusion and uncertainty among those who might be subject to the Fisheries Act. This, in turn, had produced a negative impact on enforcement. 

In addition to recommending restoring the intent of the pre-2012 provisions, the committee also recommended adopting a broader "ecosystem approach" to fish habitat protection to encompass marine biodiversity as a whole, and not just commercially valuable species and to ensure that the entire food web is preserved for fish. 


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