Read this investigative report – the second part of a four part series from the Vancouver Sun examining the Harper Government’s clash with conservationists over its omnibus budget bill and the Enbridge pipeline. This installment focuses on the concerns of fisheries biologists, academics, conservationists and First Nations over Harper’s plan to gut the Fisheries Act through Bill C-38. (June 6)
Otto Langer has devoted his adult life to protecting fish habitat.
Now he wonders if it was all for nothing. The retired head of habitat assessment and planning for the federal Fisheries Department in B.C. and Yukon describes the Conservative government’s planned changes to the Fisheries Act as the biggest setback to conservation law in Canada in half a century. And he takes it very personally.
“I feel I have wasted my lifetime, that I should have done something else,” says Langer, who now predicts a gradual decline in fish habitat if the changes take effect.
Through a massive package of proposed laws in Bill C-38, Ottawa plans to limit federal protection of fish habitat to activities resulting in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, sport or aboriginal fishery. Across the country, hundreds of scientists have condemned the change.
“It’s going to remove freshwater protection for most fishes in Canada, which can’t be a good thing,” says University of B.C. zoology department professor Eric Taylor, who also cochairs a federal committee that advises the government on species at risk.
“Habitat is not just a place to live; it’s a place to breed, rest, avoid predators, get food.”
Taylor argues the Fisheries Department should be fighting for biodiversity. “They should have an interest in protecting Canada’s aquatic biodiversity – for all Canadians. They now seem to be abandoning that.”
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield has said the changes will focus federal protection efforts “where they are needed,” provide clearer and more efficient regulations, and create partnerships with provinces, aboriginal groups and conservation organizations.
He promised to provide better enforcement of the rules, and also to protect “ecologically significant areas,” such as sensitive spawning grounds or where the cumulative impact of development is a concern.
So-called minor works, such as cottage docks and irrigation ditches, will be identified and no longer require permits, said Ashfield, who refused to be interviewed for this article.
Critics consider the bill a regressive step that is certain to have serious impacts on fish.