Maple Ridge river groups worried over Fisheries Act

ARMS, KEEPS worried about removing habitat protection

A coho in the main stem of Kanaka Creek.

A coho in the main stem of Kanaka Creek.

Leaked information about changes to the Fisheries Act have two local river groups worried about Maple Ridge’s rivers, creeks and streams and the fish within them.

“ARMS finds this very disturbing. Fish habitat is essential for fish,” said Amanda Crowston, executive-director with the Alouette River Management Society.

She was responding to a release from former Fisheries and Oceans Canada biologist Otto Langer, who said leaked documents show the Conservative government is rewriting Sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act and essentially removing habitat protection from the act. Habitat is the lakes and rivers, wetlands and streamside areas that all support fish, he points out.

In its place will be a clause that only protects fish of “economic, cultural or ecological value.”

Langer says such changes, such as not mentioning habitat, will make the act difficult to enforce.

“It’s very distressing and it goes against what ARMS works towards in rehabilitating fish habitat in the Alouette watershed,” Crowston said.

If fish habitat isn’t protected, spawning beds and food sources could disappear. “It’s not just about salmon, it’s every fish in the river.”

Ross Davies, with the Kanaka Education and Environmental Protection Society, is aware of what could be in the government’s plans – and he doesn’t like it either. “It makes me nervous,” he said Thursday. He pointed out the provincial government has already stepped away from a lot of habitat protection. For a public resource, there should be an impartial body to regulate it. How do you put an economic value on a small, back yard stream? he asked.

“People should be a little nervous about this.

“There are a whole lot of jumping on the bandwagon to speak up about this.”

Langer claims the government will try to sneak the changes through by tacking them on to its budget bill in the next few weeks.

However, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp, parliamentary secretary to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, pointed out the budget is a policy document and just signals where the government is going.

Proceeding beyond that would require later decisions.

He said the government doesn’t comment on leaked documents, adding no decisions have been made. However changes need to be made to make the act more efficient. Sometimes municipalities can’t clean out their ditches and farmers can’t either, because fish have been found in them and it’s considered habitat.

Nothing’s tabled, but the government wants to ensure the act is effective and doesn’t go too far and become unbalanced. “So that’s what we’ve been doing.

“Ultimately, we’re committed to protecting fish and fish habitat in an efficient way.”

Kamp said the river groups need to stay tuned adding he, “appreciated their vigilance” on the topic.

“They need to see what actually comes, if anything comes, and discussions will follow.”

Former federal NDP candidate and Maple Ridge councillor Craig Speirs agreed that removing habitat protection could undermine the District of Maple Ridge’s bylaws that protect its own creeks and riverside environments.

He doesn’t know how the federal government can separate the fish from water. “It’s all about the water.

“If you don’t have clean water you have nothing.

“This is just another example of their backing out of their responsibilities to govern,” he said. “They’re not interesting governing, they’re not interested in protecting anything, especially anything to do with people and the environment.”

The Conservatives expect the corporations to take care of the rest but that’s never worked, he said.

Geoff Clayton, with the Alouette river group, said the changes could be related to make it easier for the proposed construction of the Enbridge oil pipeline from Edmonton to Kitimat.