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ASF Presentation on Fisheries Act Amendments Nov. 8

ASF PRESENTATION TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON FISHERIES AND OCEANS ON FISHERIES ACT AMENDMENTS
Delivered on Nov. 8, 2012 by ASF President Bill Taylor

I very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans regarding Bill C-45 and amendments 173 to 178.  While my visit to Ottawa took some last minute organization during a hectic time, I considered it very important to be represented in this process, and only wish that this type of consultation had been carried out on all the amendments in the Fisheries Act contained in Bill C-38.  As I have made great effort to be here and as the context for Bill C-45 lies in Bill C-38, I would like to provide some general comments as well as specific comments on Bill C-45.

Fisheries Act Consultations

The amendments to the Fisheries Act were thrust upon Canadians in the government’s Budget Omnibus Bill, without consultation. In answer to public outcry, Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield promised consultation with provinces, Aboriginal groups and stakeholders, such as conservation groups, anglers, landowners and municipalities, to develop the regulatory and policy framework to support the new and focused direction that is set out by those proposed changes.  The deadline for approval of the Fisheries Act Amendments by Order-in-Council of January 1, 2013 is fast approaching, and DFO has arranged for no meaningful consultation before this happens.

ASF recognizes that DFO staff are trying to consult with Provinces and develop scientific data that would guide the amendments.  Stakeholders such as ASF would benefit from being able to review some of the important scientific foundation work that has already been provided by DFO scientists through the Canadian Scientific Advisory Secretariat (CSAS).  We request on behalf of the Canadian public access to these CSAS reports and to have scientists available with whom we can discuss the scientific underpinnings to the key concepts of the amended Act.

ASF is still committed to working with DFO to ensure that the implementation of the amended Fisheries Act will protect our fish and their habitats from the impacts of development projects in an effective and cost efficient way, and sustain the many economic and social benefits our recreational fisheries provide now and in the future.   We cannot do this without meaningful consultation that is framed by DFO by providing their information and scientific data that spells out the rationale for protection of our fish and their habitat under the amended Fisheries Act.

ASF recommends that, to allow for meaningful informed consultation to occur, the Order-in-Council required to have the changes to the Act come into force be deferred to June 2013. This extension should ensure adequate consultation and involvement of all interested Canadians, and time for government officials to do an effective job to develop and share with stakeholders their science-based input.

ASF has prepared a preliminary report for DFO on the Fisheries Act Amendments.  In summary:

Habitat:

Fisheries are very important but a fishery is only as good as the health of the fish and the habitat and ecosystem on which they depend – this should be the fundamental premise of Implementation of the Act. The principal of no net loss should continue and be applied consistently.

Recreational Fish:

ASF emphasizes that protecting the recreational fishery requires, not only protecting the specific recreational fish, but also the fish that support the recreational fish.  There must be protection of the ecosystem which supports the health and existence of the recreational fish and the fish that support those fish.

The definition of a recreational fishery as meaning that a species of fish is harvested under the authority of license for personal use of that fish for sport is far too simplistic and seems to infer that populations that are not healthy enough to support a fishery will not be protected.   It is important to protect not only existing fisheries but also potential fisheries.  The presence of wild Atlantic salmon in a river should be sufficient to identify the existence of a recreational fishery.  It is important to protect fish listed under SARA. The concept of expansion in productivity of a fishery is not captured in the amended Act.  Enhancement and restoration of recreational fisheries must be considered, which goes beyond protecting the productivity of fisheries that exist now.  

Economic Value:

The economic and social value of recreational fisheries relies on healthy rivers and oceans, which brings us back to the importance of protecting fish and their habitat to support long-term economic benefits far into the future. It is important to protect potential economic value by protecting salmon that may not support a fishery at the moment but have the potential to do so through restoration.

Partnerships:

There is little information from government on how partnerships under the amendments would work.  ASF agrees that the efforts of the private and government sector could be more effectively integrated and carried out under a central plan.  ASF sees some potential in working in partnership and recommends that the federal government develop a paper that helps groups such as the Atlantic Salmon Federation understand what is entailed in the government’s concept of partnerships and how they would potentially work.

Science:

Science is of utmost importance in arriving at sound decisions on protection of fish and their habitat, which in turn protects fisheries.  ASF recommends with urgency that DFO scientists consult with NGO scientists very soon to develop scientific criteria that will underlay decisions on fish and habitat protection in the amended Fisheries Act.  To assist in addressing the science needed to support the Fisheries Act, the Ontario Chapter of the American Fisheries Society is working with Trout Unlimited and World Wildlife Fund to produce an independent science piece on key principles that will inform the discussion.  Again, the short timeline of January 1, 2013 challenges the effective use of such important scientific input.

Specific to Bill C-45 which is meant to clarify parts of Bill C-38, I have the following comments:

The Environmental Damages Fund will not be the cash cow that some profess it to be as a substantial reduction in penalties has occurred and this is expected to continue.  Because of the new subjective terms that have been introduced, such as serious harm, permanent alteration and/or destruction, ongoing productivity of a fishery, the amendments are at present legally and scientifically undefined.  It is a huge challenge to determine scientifically how serious harm (or causing death to fish) affects productivity of a fishery.  This will be the challenge when considering whether to authorize obstructions to fish passage.   How many fish have to be destroyed  to constitute “serious harm”?  How do you take into account cumulative impacts?  Without clear legal and scientific underpinnings, it will be impossible to get a conviction in the courts.  In fact, there will be too much uncertainty in the definitions of serious harm and/or permanent damage for a judge to make a definitive ruling or habitat staff to lay a charge for that matter.

Further commenting on obstructions to fish passage, I know of no instances where blockage of rivers increases the abundance of Canada’s native fish.  Damming rivers moves the habitat from moving (swift) water to a still water (lake) system.  The species composition for a river is very different from that of a lake, and this is often to the detriment of the native fish.  Although there may be an increase in fish biomass, this is often not in favour of the native fish.  Productivity of a non-native fish to the detriment of a native fish is not acceptable.

And then there is the impact of serious cuts to DFO habitat staff.    These are the people who would make the charges that would lead to convictions that would lead to money in the Environmental Damages Fund. We now know that the new Fisheries Protection Program (formerly Habitat) will have only 16 service delivery points across the country.  In the Atlantic region these offices will be located in three offices: Moncton, Dartmouth and St. John’s.  PEI didn’t make the list despite that province’s significant impacts on river habitat from agriculture run-off.  In the Gulf Region, we have lost the Tracadie and Charlottetown offices.  In Newfoundland, five offices have been reduced to one.  In Nova Scotia, at least four offices have been reduced to one. In 2000 in the Pacific region, there were 1,800 habitat-related investigations, leading to 49 convictions.  By 2010, the number of investigations was down to 300, and convictions under the habitat provisions were down to one.  The constant pressure of reducing staff and budgets has led to the staff being unable to their jobs.  Habitat protection has been dismantled, which leaves little hope that there will be effective control of assaults on fish habitat nor much money flowing into the Environmental Damages Fund.

I could go on.  I will simply finish by urging this Committee to use its influence to delay approval of the amendments by Order-in-Council to allow time to ensure these amendments are scientifically and legally defensible and there has been meaningful consultation with so many Canadians who want to have strong protection of our fish and habitat.