The Fisheries Act is Canada’s strongest environmental law, mainly because it prohibits what’s known as HADD – “the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat”. So when the government plans to dismantle this protection, it’s time for Canadians to say they have HADD enough.
Under current law, you can’t destroy fish habitat unless you get a permit. If your project may cause damage to fish habitat, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway project’s proposed twin pipelines which would cross hundreds of streams and rivers, the need to obtain a HADD permit triggers a federal environmental assessment. Earlier this week, the government proposed changes that would significantly weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act; now groups across the country are concerned that the Fisheries Act is next.
Taking away the protection of habitat is a major problem according to Otto Langer, a fisheries biologist who worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO, for 32 years. As he said in a press release yesterday, DFO used to hand out pencils and pens with the slogan embossed on their sides “No Habitat – No Fish”.
A leaked document Langer received says the wording of this key section of the law is about to be changed, to remove all references to habitat. Habitat is home for fish, or as the Act puts it: the spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes. As Mr. Langer notes: “The existing effective and essential piece of legislation is to be changed to apparently just protect fish – something that the Act already does.”
The prohibition on destruction of fish habitat is a key tool for regulators responsible for protecting the environment. When a mining company wants to turn a sacred lake into a tailings pond in BC, what law prevents that from occurring? The Fisheries Act. When the effects of a new dam will harm fish, what law is invoked? The Fisheries Act. When a developer fills in a stream, what law can be used to lay charges? Again, the Fisheries Act.
Langer’s source claims that the federal government apparently intends to gut this law under the guise of a budget bill. In Wednesday’s House of Commons, Fisheries Minister Ashfield did not deny that the government plans to remove protection of fish habitat from the Act, and said that “these are policies we’re looking at. There’s ample evidence that the policies that we have in place now are inhibiting the everyday activities of Canadian landowners …”
Canadians know that environmental laws matter. Make your views known-tell your MP you want strong environmental laws to protect our communities, ecosystems, health, and economy. Tell them you’ve HADD enough.