In 2010, the wholesale value of the catch of all British Columbia fisheries was nearly $1.5 billion.
There is no doubt that fisheries are important to our economy and our communities.
That’s why a leaked document released by a former DFO employee, Otto Langer, is making some very big waves in this province.
According to Langer, the Conservative government may dilute the habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.
They would do that by deleting habitat protection from Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act.
As they’ve done with other contentious changes, like the Navigable Waters Act, they could make the change by using the Budget Omnibus bill, which often runs to hundreds of pages.
New Democrats oppose any attempt to remove habitat protection from the mandate of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We will not have strong, healthy fish stocks without the habitat that supports them.
And we don’t want to return to a time when big industry could alter the landscape without any care for the fisheries that are dependent on health habitat.
More than 600 scientists have signed on to a letter urging the government not to abandon fish habitat protection. Of particular concern to them is the proposed decision to only protect fish of “cultural, economic or ecological value.”
They rightly point out that every variety of fish has ecological value.
In February, the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel released a report titled “Sustaining Canadian Marine Biodiversity.” It showed that Canada lagged in meeting national and international commitments to protect marine biodiversity.
Removing fish habitat protection from the department’s mandate will not improve our record.
The report went on to say that this government fails to use the precautionary principle with regards to fisheries, it is not taking concrete action to reduce the effects of climate change and has no recovery plans for overfished stocks.
More disturbingly, the removal of fish habitat protection seems to be part of a broader plan to dismantle environmental protections across the board.
The government has already announced budget cuts for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and for Environment Canada.
The Conservatives are calling for a single regulatory review process for major resource extraction projects.
Right now, large projects often trigger both a federal and provincial process because they cover areas of differing government responsibility.
Many people fear that a single review system will not be as rigorous and the protections the review system provides will be lost.
New Democrats will continue to advocate for protection of our fisheries, oceans and the lakes and streams that feed them.