Nature Canada

Good News for Fish

A much-improved Fisheries Act will now almost certainly be enacted by both houses of Parliament before the end of the parliamentary session in late June. Key modernizations in Bill C-68 are the restored prohibitions against damage to fish habitat, and establishment of a regulatory regime to authorize major works that may damage fish habitat.

Unfortunately, the government and the House of Commons seem prepared to accept a Senate amendment to the Fisheries Act that would omit flows of water from the definition of fish habitat in the Act.

The Fisheries Act never recognized in law that water is needed to keep fish habitat healthy and accessible. Bill C-68 as passed by the House of Commons would have addressed this gap by adding the phrase “quantity, timing and quality of water flows” to the legal definition of fish habitat.

The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, a scientific advisory body to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, had identified an “urgent need to establish an environmental flows framework in Canada” in order to protect fish and fish habitat in the face of declining water quality, increasing water demand, reduced water availability and the long-term impacts of climate change. But the Senate ignored the Secretariat’s advice; now it seems that the government and House of Commons will hold their noses and accept the Senate’s amendment.

That is too bad. As Tony Maas of Flow Canada puts it: “Fish need water. And a modern Fisheries Act should say so.”

Still, Bill C-68 is good news for fish, aquatic and marine biodiversity, and the human economies that depend on healthy fisheries. Congratulations to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his predecessor Dominic LeBlanc for getting this important law enacted.

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