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Fish Act changes gut habitat protection

The changes to the Fisheries Act were introduced to the House of Commons last Thursday and include removal of the clause that generally protects fish habitat – and replaces it with protection of native, recreational or commercial fisheries.

The phrase ‘harmful alteration, disruption destruction” of fish habitat is gone, while the new act will say no one can cause “serious harm” to the above three types of fisheries.

“The whole direction, we think, is kind of a practical, sensible approach to focusing on fisheries that Canadians value,” Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp said.

“We’re well aware that eco-systems are large things,” he added. “We haven’t lost sight of that, I think.

“It’s true, we’re moving away from reviewing all projects in all waters and focusing on those that may significantly impact Canada’s fisheries.”

To do that they’ll  strengthen their management of threats to those fisheries.

He pointed out that other legislation still exists, such as the section in the Fisheries Act that still bans dumping “deleterious substances” into water, as well as provincial legislation.

Gone is the requirement to get authorization for disruption of any kind of fish habitat. That’s only required for waters that connected to recreational, commercial or aboriginal fisheries,” says a question and answer list on the ministry’s website.

“Authorizations will not be required for projects occurring in waters that do not support the recreational, commercial or Aboriginal fisheries. New tools will be available to manage smaller impacts to recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries.”

Alouette River Management Society spokesman Geoff Clayton wondered why the government is changing the act when it’s not enforcing what’s there now.

“Nobody can be fooled by this.”

He agreed though that Maple Ridge’s streams and rivers should remain protected under the new act because they contain salmon and trout and thus would be considered part of an aboriginal, commercial or recreational fishery.

“All of our water ways in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows certainly would fall under the category of commercial or sport fishery.”

He added that farmers are rarely affected by having ditches declared fish habitat.

But Clayton still sees the act as being written to make it easier to build the Enbridge oil pipeline across northern B.C. to Kitimat. Kamp though disagrees saying there would be many streams along the route that would fit into the above three categories of fisheries.

The actual definition of regulations and policies will be developed in consultation with provinces and interest groups.

The Fisheries Act originally was passed in 1868 with sections on habitat added in 1986. “There’s been a growing sense over the years that it does need to be changed to allow us to do our job better,” Kamp said.

According to Fisheries, the new legislation will allow conservation groups to form partnerships to protect fish while cities will have more certainty about how regulations apply to them.

“It moves Fisheries and Oceans Canada away from reviewing every activity that landowners may undertake to focus on activities that may have a significant impact on the sustainability and productivity of recreational, commercial or aboriginal fisheries.”

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