Federal gov’t still want to change fisheries habitat policy: MP tells Maple Ridge council

Sockeye salmon turn water red during annual spawning cycle in Adams River. - News Files
Sockeye salmon turn water red during annual spawning cycle in Adams River.
— image credit: News Files

Ottawa didn’t include changes to the Fisheries Act, such as removing habitat protection, in its budget last month, but the habitat policy will change, says local MP Randy Kamp.

“In our view, the habitat policy is unfocused. It catches everything equally within its orbit. We think there’s needs to be a way to focus the policy so that the high-risk developments and high-value species get more focus than the low-risk projects and the low-risk species,” Kamp told Maple Ridge council Monday.

But the government isn’t quite sure how to do that yet.

Environmental groups, and Metro Vancouver’s environmental committee, reacted strongly to reports last month after former Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Otto Langer leaked documents that he said showed the government is rewriting Sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act, removing habitat protection.

He said in their place will be a clause that only protects fish of “economic, cultural or ecological value.”

There were no such changes announced in the budget.

Metro Vancouver’s environment committee, however, still called for the preservation of those clauses, while the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society and the Alouette River Management Society both voiced opposition to possible changes.

“We have good reason to expect this to be diluted,” Metro environment committee chair Heather Deal said earlier. “This would be a major unravelling of habitat protection.”

Fish in Metro Vancouver streams might be more at risk if home owners and developers are no longer barred from building walls or other works near the edges of creeks and altering the flow of water,  she added.

Kamp, parliamentary secretary to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, said the words “economic value” wouldn’t be in any of the changes, but there needs to be way “that’s less arbitrary and more focused and gives us more ability to prioritize.”

Currently, under the Fisheries Act, Section 35, anyone doing a harmful alteration, disruption, destruction of fish habitat needs authorization of the ministry.

The clause is triggered whether there is a major development planned near a salmon stream or minor project for a slough containing sucker fish at the edge of a property.

“So we are looking at ways to be able to focus and prioritize but we haven’t had the answers yet.”

Coun. Cheryl Ashlie opposed any changes and said Maple Ridge looks at the impact on the whole ecosystem, not just on the impact on fisheries and wanted to know if there will be any public consultation.

“People are concerned for good reason,” and it’s important to know that people will be able to raise those concerns.

Kamp said consultations with interest groups are underway but, “they’re not of very widespread or public nature.”

He said the changes could involve regulatory rather than legislative changes, such as defining what fish species support aboriginal, sport or commercial fisheries.

“It’s a challenging process, I don’t deny that.”

He added that consultation is required by law when changing those regulations.

Kamp said the Conservative government’s received lots of feedback on the topic, adding he’ll be talking to the Alouette River group this week.

“There still will be a prohibition in the act of some kind and a requirement for authorization for certain kinds of projects.”

But those still need defining, he added.

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