DFO cutbacks will affect your cottage waterway

Welcome to post-budget Canada: Those changes to the Fisheries Act that went through with the passing of the federal omnibus budget bill recently have led to the expected office closures and job cuts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Here’s how the DFO minister, Keith Ashfield, describes it:

“Canadians understand that there is a difference between low-risk projects, such as a new dock at the cottage, and high-risk projects, such as a hydro-electric dam or mining operations. Our new rules will reflect this difference and our operations will be adjusted to reflect these rules,” said Minister Ashfield.

What this means is that the feds don’t think the fish habitat in the water in front of your cottage, or your neighbours’ cottages, is all that important. So hundreds of thousands of cottagers now have less incentive to take care with what they do in the water. There will be fewer DFO officials to deal with issues, and far fewer offices to look after what everyone seems to agree (on paper, anyway) is valuable and in need of protection: our waterways. What the government once called “habitat management,” it now calls “fisheries protection.” There are currently 63 DFO offices across Canada with habitat staff, but soon there will only be 14, and for the vast Central and Arctic Region (west from Quebec to the BC-Alberta border) there will only be five offices, in Ottawa, Burlington, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Yellowknife. Expect offices in Peterborough, Parry Sound, and other cottage-country locations to be shuttered. The Harper government is cutting about 130 DFO jobs, about a quarter of habitat management staff, across the country.

What will all this mean for cottagers? It will likely be easier for you to make changes to your shoreline, but it will be easier for everyone, so your lake could see a boom in lakeside reconstruction. Think about it: backhoes everywhere, your pristine wilderness retreat transformed, suburbia comes to cottage country big-time. And fishing? Forgetaboutit. The fish will be long gone.