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Maple Ridge’s task force takes on feds and fisheries

Maple Ridge has formed the a group composed of staff, two councillors, and the Alouette River Management Society and Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society, to give feedback as Fisheries and Oceans Canada develops new rules and policies for the Act.  - The New/Files
Maple Ridge has formed the a group composed of staff, two councillors, and the Alouette River Management Society and Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society, to give feedback as Fisheries and Oceans Canada develops new rules and policies for the Act.
— image credit: The New/Files

Maple Ridge’s river groups and the district’s own stream protection rules could be hurt by the new Fisheries Act, which guts habitat protection and instead says no one can cause “serious harm” to recreational, commercial or aboriginal fisheries.

“It can unravel in a hurry,” said John Kelly, chair of a Maple Ridge task force that reviewed the new law passed earlier this year by the federal Conservatives.

Many local streams could be left “totally unprotected,” while work done by the Alouette River Management Society and Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society “could be put at risk,” he told council Monday.

“It’s almost like the federal government is dumping it all on you.”

The task force released its report the day after Rivers Day, saying the Fisheries Act changes weaken protection for fish and that the government is downloading the responsibility for fish protection on to cities and provinces, without giving any money to do so.

The changes were part of Bill C-38, passed earlier this year, a bill which was so wide-ranging that people couldn’t respond to the “enormity” of the changes, said Coun. Cheryl Ashlie, who proposed the task force.

Those changes again could result in costly court challenges on the new law.

“And, yet, we’re having to fight our own government.”

The task force sent questions to Randy Kamp, secretary to the fisheries minister, and met with the Maple Ridge MP.

“Did we get answers? Not really,” said Coun. Al Hogarth, who was on the task force.

At a meeting with Kamp, Hogarth asked three times if the task force could get a copy of Kamp’s speaking notes.

“And that was denied.

“And basically we were told that the two pieces of paper we got was more than what anybody else was supplied with and there wasn’t a whole lot of information on those pages,” Hogarth said.

Kelly said Kamp didn’t even offer to refer the questions to fisheries for more explanation.

“So, basically, we’ve been told, ‘I’m not going to answer your questions.’

“They seem to be doing a lot of their work behind closed doors.”

The report says the new law doesn’t say who will determine that a particular stream is part of a commercial, aboriginal or recreational fishery.

Nor does the new law say how many fish have to be killed before extensive harm is caused to a fishery.

The report also wants to know what groups influenced the government to make such changes and what scientific evidence is being used.

Cuts to Fisheries and Oceans Canada are also a concern. The report says one in three fisheries positions in B.C. will be cut and a reduction made in the number of enforcement units from 65 to 15.

Specific requests are made in the report: that Maple Ridge ask the government to disclose the scientific evidence it used to justify the changes and that it clarify definitions about fish habitat.

The task force also wants the report forwarded to all MPs, MLAs, federal and provincial fisheries ministries, Metro Vancouver and all Union of B.C. Municipalities members.

Mayor Ernie Daykin said Kamp told him that his department wants to focus on the big fisheries picture.

“Well, the big fish start off as the little guys.”

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