Expect a pipeline or a road to be built soon over your favourite fishing spot. As part of its effort to break down “regulatory barriers” to industrial projects, like pipelines, mining and oil sands, among others, the federal Conservative government plans to remove habitat protection from Section 35 of the Fisheries Act. Many believe this change will be included in the implementation bill of the recent federal budget.
Section 35(1) prohibits activities that result in a harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat. The HADD provisions became law in 1977 with the federal government acknowledging the essential link between protecting fish habitat and protecting fish populations. In other words, fish cannot survive without protection of their habitat.
Fish habitat includes lakes, rivers and oceans and their water flows, life processes, the banks and vegetation along a water way, marshes and gravel beds. A healthy habitat produces healthy fish and more fish stocks. These, in turn, support both the cultural and recreational fishery and other wildlife.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) acknowledges the importance of habitat to fisheries in its web site, stating that the ”cultural value and long-term productivity of Canada's aquatic resources depends not only on carefully managing fish populations, but also the habitats that support them.”
Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield’s justification for the change is that protection of fish habitat infringes on the “everyday way of life of Canadians.” Of course, we read that as infringing on the everyday way of life of business and industry.
But if the legislation is amended to exclude protection of fish habitat, the resulting devastation to our fish, environment and ecosystem could make the everyday way of life of all Canadians obsolete.