There is widespread alarm about the Harper government's alleged plan to remove habitat protection from the federal Fisheries Act by attaching changes to the Omnibus Budget Bill. These revisions will have grave and lasting consequences for environmental protection in Canada and should be subject to full debate in Parliament.
Ensuring the protection of habitat has been a keystone of Living Oceans Society's work since we formed 14 years ago. Without viable habitat for fish stocks, the health of coastal and ocean ecosystems will suffer, and so will the coastal economies that are dependent upon them. The expected changes to the Fisheries Act threaten not only fish and fish habitat, but the basis of long-established coastal industries such as commercial and sport fisheries, ecotourism and fish processing.
Currently, any project that interferes with fish habitat must undergo an environmental assessment to obtain an authorization and must compensate for any loss of habitat. The leaked documents indicate that only fish of economic, ecological or cultural importance will be considered for protection, a level of vagueness which could lead to years of legal challenges and uncertainty.
"This rumored revision will remove the most important protection that Canadians have for fish and fish habitat, and endanger marine ecosystems and all Canadian rivers, lakes and streams," said Catherine Stewart of Living Oceans Society. "The Harper government seems to be intent on destroying the protection that exists for Canada's natural heritage if that protection impedes the rapid extraction and sale of our natural resources."
The reported changes to Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act would make it much more difficult to protect fish and fish habitat from projects and activities that could result in significant negative consequences for aquatic ecosystems across Canada from the spawning and rearing grounds of salmon high up in the headwaters to the corals and sponges of the deep oceans. This change could streamline approvals of projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline. It may also mean that there would be little opportunity for public input on applications for new or expanded open net-cage salmon farms and their impacts on wild salmon stocks and the marine habitat of other species.
"Habitat protection is a key safeguard to protect Canada's ecosystems from unbridled industrial development," Stewart said. "It mustn't be sloughed off in order to privilege short term profit over environmental protection for future generations."
...From Living Oceans Society media release.
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