There are proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that dramatically increase ministerial discretion while reducing the role for science and evidence, resulting in far weaker pollution prevention measures in the Act.
These changes would allow the Environment and Fisheries Ministers to grant blanket authorization to industry to pollute our waterways instead of making these decisions on a case-by-case basis, based on the best available scientific and Indigenous knowledge. Ministers would be able to:
- Give blanket authorization to fish farms to dump drugs, pesticides and other pollutants into wild fish habitat;
- Allow other industries to dump pesticides in fisheries waters; and
- Shirk their regulatory oversight of pollutants, offloading responsibility onto provincial governments or relying on non-binding guidelines and policy.
Some of these regulatory changes are needed to allow research at the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) to resume. Because the ELA is no longer the responsibility of the federal government, it requires a special exemption under the Fisheries Act that will allow scientists to experimentally release contaminants into lakes under controlled conditions. Such experiments are crucial for providing the best possible scientific evidence about the environmental effects of these substances, and how deleterious effects might be reduced.
The opportunity to grant such exemptions requires regulatory changes to the Fisheries Act. We agree with changes to the Fisheries Act in support of research at ELA. Unfortunately, the proposed changes go far beyond this – they would allow Ministers to authorize industry to pollute our waterways.
In light of recent amendments to the Fisheries Act that reduced protection for fish and their habitats, these proposed regulatory changes are especially worrisome.
West Coast Environmental Law has proposed several amendments to the regulatory changes that would allow the ELA research to proceed while still maintaining the integrity of the Fisheries Act to protect against harmful pollutants being dumped in our waterways.
There won’t be a vote on these regulatory changes in the House of Commons. These changes will be final as soon as they are published in the Canada Gazette Part 2. We don’t know for sure when this will be, but we suspect it will happen on Wednesday, April 23rd.
- The proposed regulation changes: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2014/2014-02-15/html/reg5-eng.php
- Comments submitted by West Coast Environmental Law: http://wcel.org/sites/default/files/14-03-17-Revised%20Submission_AJ-DFO_Fisheries%20Act%20Regs.pdf