First Nations, Scientists, Conservationists Want Fisheries Minister To Scale Up Fish Protection

Press Release: Vancouver, BC—Coast Salish Territories

West Coast Environmental Law, supported by First Nations, scientists, and conservation groups are calling for Canada’s Fisheries Minister to act immediately on his mandate to “restore lost protections” for fish habitat gutted by the former Conservative government. Noted scientists, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs are among the nearly fifty signees in an open letter asking Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo to reinstate habitat protection and “scale up” Canada’s Fisheries Act to modernize the 150-year-old legislation.

Habitat destruction is cited as the most common cause of species decline, and recommendations include recognizing Indigenous rights, strengthening monitoring and enforcement, and protecting ecologically significant areas to ensure healthy fish populations. The Liberal government has committed to implementing the research, restoration, and management recommendations in the 2015 Special Report on Wild Atlantic Salmon in Eastern Canada. Sue Scott, Vice-President of Communications for the Atlantic Salmon Federation says, “Strong habitat protection is essential if we are going to succeed in reversing the long-term decline in numbers of wild Atlantic salmon.”

Scaling Up The Fisheries Act

Released during Canada Water Week and the United Nations World Water Day, Scaling Up the Fisheries Act recommends an immediate repeal of controversial changes to fisheries law made by the previous federal government. In 2012, four former federal fisheries ministers and 600 Canadian and international scientists decried omnibus Bill C-38 that weakened fish habitat protection and removed safeguards for more than 130 freshwater and marine fish species at risk in Canada.

“It’s a huge relief to see the Minister’s mandate direct from the Prime Minister is to ensure that fisheries and their habitat remain healthy for future generations,” says Linda Nowlan, staff counsel for West Coast Environmental Law. “The federal government can act now to put the guts back into the Fisheries Act by restoring full habitat protection.” Nowlan says restoring the section of the law known as HADD—which prohibits harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat—is widely supported by First Nations, fishers, anglers, scientists, conservation groups, and coastal communities, and does not require prolonged consultation.

“Restoring the Fisheries Act, which was gutted by the Harper government, is key to developing a new relationship with First Nations,” says Chief Robert Chamberlin, Vice President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “Our Aboriginal Rights are well established for government to respect and is fundamental to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Government’s commitment to a new relationship with First Nations. His commitment to enacting the Cohen Commission report is a very positive step forward in developing a new path with First Nations, but this commitment must embrace and enact the ‘principles’ found within the recommendations.”