New procedure for federal fisheries department

More ‘consistency and transparency’

  • Mar. 2, 2011 4:00 p.m.

A set of new operational standards should make it easier to respond to habitat destruction, while saving money for Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well, the local MP and secretary to the fisheries department told local politicians last week.A revised “national protocol” is now being implemented within the department, which is moving toward becoming a permitting, as well as an enforcement agency, said Randy Kamp.That could save money and time by spelling out exactly what the procedures or requirements are for any industrial activity near streams. Until now, the department has mainly been an enforcement agency, enacting the Fisheries Act whenever there are violations or destruction of fish habitat.Kamp was at Maple Ridge council to explain Fisheries’ response to a reported fish kill in the North Alouette River in May 2009.“The way the department handled the initial call, to me, didn’t seem acceptable,” he said.While May and June are busy times for the department, “it still doesn’t seem an adequate response for me.”Kamp’s possible NDP rival in the next federal election, Coun. Craig Speirs, joined in, criticizing the time lag.“Eight days to respond just doesn’t seem good enough and I’m glad you’re looking that.” He wanted to know how the department will increase its ability to respond to such incidents and said that usually means allocating more money to the department.Kamp said the new procedures should also give the department more time to respond to actual habitat violations rather than reviewing every proposal.Fisheries Minister Gail Shea explained the change in a letter to Mayor Ernie Daykin.Responding to a letter from council, Shea said the new protocol “promotes consistency and transparency in the risk-management and decision-making process and specifies the roles of each party when it comes to enforcement actions.”Kamp, and Shea’s letter explained how the department responded to complaints about dead fish and construction along the river almost two years ago.On May 19, 2009, somebody left a message in the fisheries office about habitat destruction on the North Alouette River bank, near the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows border, but left no details about location. The department followed up with the complainant, but decided no further action was required. “Rightly or wrongly, the officer who received the call [thought] it was low priority and didn’t return the call until some days later,” Kamp told council.On May 25, the fisheries office got a call about dead fish in the river. Usually, that indicates pollution of some kind so the file was forwarded to Environment Canada, Kamp explained. Environment Canada officers went out there the next day and found only four little dead fish. Those, along with other dead fish provided by Jack Emberly, who originally saw the fish kill that involved hundreds juvenile fish, were sent to a lab, which couldn’t identify any pollution source. Then on June 9, a call came about the 45-centimetre-wide pipe installed in the river. Shea’s letter describes the pipe as a “large-scale diversion.”That was passed on to the Provincial Emergency Program, then to the B.C. Ministry of Environment to investigate.Golden Eagle Group, part of the Aquilini Investment Group, installed the pipe to water its Pitt Meadows cranberry fields, without waiting to receive a water licence. It denies that its work caused the death of the fish.After months of investigation, the B.C. environment department eventually handed the file over to the attorney general department for possible charges under the Water Act. That department has yet to make a decision.Fisheries and Oceans eventually did visit the site, on July 7, to set fish traps followed by a stop work order issued in August or September by the B.C. environment ministry, Kamp added.But Coun. Cheryl Ashlie wanted to know if someone would be held accountable and how the department’s response would change if another call came in.There’s no point in enforcing the law if you don’t prosecute the 10 per cent of the population that violates it, she added.“We have limited resources, as you know,” Kamp replied.Any protocol should involve local environmental groups, added Coun. Al Hogarth. It would also help if local groups knew exactly how to make complaints, said Mayor Ernie Daykin.Ashlie said later she wants to get council to agree to contact to the B.C. Ministry of Environment and MLA Marc Dalton, so both levels of government are involved in the new response plan.She wants to continue working on the issue until she knows exactly how responses would change if there was another spill.“He gave us some information that we can work on. Let’s take that, move forward, that’s all we can do.