Fishing vessels. (Photo: Stock File/FIS)
Scientists push against changes to Fisheries Act
Monday, March 26, 2012, 00:20 (GMT + 9)
Hundreds of scientists are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to refrain from undoing fish-habitat protections to avoid endangering species and tainting Canada’s international standing.
A few days ago, 625 prominent scientists sent Harper a letter opposing the federal government’s intent to gut habitat protections from the Fisheries Act.
“This would be a most unwise action, which would jeopardise many important fish stocks and the lakes, estuaries and rivers that support them,” the letter reads, The Canadian Press reports. “We urge you to abandon this initiative.”
The changes would come in this week’s budget and echo the Conservative government’s plans to eradicate barriers to industrial development. A leaked draft last week showed the government’s desire to remove habitat provisions from the act, which could weaken relevant government oversight.
“If that’s even close to what they’re going to announce, you’ll see some of the senior scientists in this country joining the green groups and native people on the picket lines,” said David Schindler, ecology professor at the University of Alberta. “I’m told that we can expect a gutting of every environmental law if this government gets its way.”
The proposed wording in the leak included exemptions allowing for activity that could harm fish of value, Victoria Times Colonist reports.
Otto Langer, the retired federal fisheries biologist who released the leaked internal information, said the proposed move may be meant partly to help Enbridge Inc, as the company's planned oilsands pipeline, which is passionately defended by the Harper government, would traverse hundreds of rivers and streams on the way to Kitimat, British Columbia.
The scientists who wrote the letter, including many senior ecologists and aquatic experts, staunchly criticised the government’s apparent plan to apply protection of fish habitat only to “fisheries of economic, cultural and ecological value.”
“This makes no sense,” they write. “All species are of ecological value.”
Environment Minister Peter Kent recently referred to the concerns about the “still unspecified changes” as legitimate. Still, he asked the letter writers to wait for Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to present the changes instead of reacting to “exaggerated” speculation.
“The Environmental Assessment Act does (apply to) fish habitat,” Kent stated. “I can assure you: There will be no short cuts or negative changes to enforcement or implementation of (the act).”
Ashfield stated that current policies go too far and are under review to better reflect “the priorities” of Canadians. His office called “unfocused and indiscriminate” rules a “systemic” problem.
“We are reviewing policies to ensure they do not go beyond their intended conservation goals,” Ashfield’s spokesperson Erin Filliter said.
Schindler noted that the Fisheries Act is considered Canada’s sturdiest environmental protection measure.
“The wording of the Fisheries Act is just fine the way it is, if they would simply enforce it,” Schindler said.
Also last week, the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, an organisation of more than 1,000 ecologists and evolutionary biologists across Canada, opposed to weakening the Fisheries Act.
By Natalia Real