New bill increases protection for fish habitats

Fishery Photo by Shutterstock/evronphoto

Last week, the federal government passed Bill C-68, which includes legislation aimed at revamping Canada’s Fisheries Act. The legislation specifically focuses on rebuilding fish abundance in depleted fisheries. “[The Fisheries Act] needed to be updated,” says Terry Rees, the executive director of the Federation of Ontario Cottager’s Association (FOCA). “It’s one of Canada’s oldest laws.”

The Fisheries Act is designed to protect fish and fish habitats in all bodies of Canadian water, including streams, lakes, and oceans. The act regulates activities and construction near or in the water that has the potential to damage fish habitats or cause harmful substances to enter the water.

On a cottager’s scale, this means the act has laws around projects like putting in a dock or dredging a marina. Projects that don’t necessarily require a permit but do need to be done properly. “Usually the Fisheries Act had guidance, which you were required to follow by law,” Rees says.

Specific laws within the Fisheries Act were changed in 2012 by the previous federal government, which, according to Rees, negatively affected cottagers. He says the Conservative government excluded provisions pertaining to the protection of habitats in Canadian bodies of water, allowing companies to more easily access required permits to build in ecologically sensitive areas.

Rees expects that the new laws will address habitat protection while not implementing an onerous regime for enforcing them. It’s similar to “speeding on a highway,” he says. “It’s still 80 km/h whether there’s a cop there or not.” Meaning the conservation authorities won’t be watching every cottager put in their dock or clear vegetation along their shorelines, but there will still be laws governing how these projects should be performed. Rees says that if we want our lakes to stay healthy then we need to abide by these laws.

The changes to the act will also help grow fish populations by remediating, restoring, and protecting “fisheries that are at risk and fisheries that need rehabilitation,” Rees says. He adds that while many of these will be commercial fisheries, like the cod in Newfoundland and salmon in British Columbia, it will also improve the condition and abundance of fish in cottage country, keeping our lakes healthy.

No specific laws have been implemented yet, so it’s difficult to say exactly how things will shake out. “The regulations are going to have to have enough clarity around the rules so that both proponents for projects and people who are interested in protecting the environment are clear about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Rees says.

But despite the work that still needs to be done, he is optimistic about the changes. “Generally, we’re feeling pretty good.”



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