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Freshwater


HADD enough? Keep habitat protection in the Federal Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act is Canada’s strongest environmental law, mainly because it prohibits what’s known as HADD – “the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat”. So when the government plans to dismantle this protection, it’s time for Canadians to say they have HADD enough.

© Kevin Schafer / WWF-Canon

Under current law, you can’t destroy fish habitat unless you get a permit. If your project may cause damage to fish habitat, like the Enbridge Northern Gateway project’s proposed twin pipelines which would cross hundreds of streams and rivers, the need to obtain  a HADD permit  triggers a federal environmental assessment. Earlier this week, the government proposed changes that would significantly weaken the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act; now groups across the country are concerned that the Fisheries Act is next.

Taking away the protection of habitat is a major problem according to Otto Langer, a fisheries biologist who worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO, for 32 years. As he said in a press release yesterday, DFO used to hand out pencils and pens with the slogan embossed on their sides “No Habitat – No Fish”.

A leaked document Langer received says the wording of this key section of the law is about to be changed, to remove all references to habitat.  Habitat is home for fish, or as the Act puts it: the spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes. As Mr. Langer notes: “The existing effective and essential piece of legislation is to be changed to apparently just protect fish – something that the Act already does.”

The prohibition on destruction of fish habitat is a key tool for regulators responsible for protecting the environment. When a mining company wants to turn a sacred lake into a tailings pond in BC, what law prevents that from occurring? The Fisheries Act. When the effects of a new dam will harm fish, what law is invoked? The Fisheries Act. When a developer fills in a stream, what law can be used to lay charges? Again, the Fisheries Act.

Langer’s source claims that the federal government apparently intends to gut this law under the guise of a budget bill. In Wednesday’s House of Commons, Fisheries Minister Ashfield did not deny that the government plans to remove protection of fish habitat from the Act, and said that “these are policies we’re looking at. There’s ample evidence that the policies that we have in place now are inhibiting the everyday activities of Canadian landowners …

Canadians know that environmental laws matter. Make your views known-tell your MP you want strong environmental laws to protect our communities, ecosystems, health, and economy. Tell them you’ve HADD enough.


  • Christopher Stephens

    The federal Conservatives think this is the only way to get their pipeline through. If they are determined to do the pipeline, at least make a special exemption for this project, rather than modifying the fisheries act so we can also lose watershed protection and have more Walkertons. Also risks to food security, destroying fish bearing creeks. This is an example of why collaboration does not work, and must be resisted, legally and through lobbying as neccessary.

  • Bruce CG Gallagher

    There can be no laws that are meant to protect nature that can be too strong…..but

    there can easily be weak laws that do too little to protect man’s habitat…….

    We are not separate from nature and nature is not a commodity ….it is the raison

    d’etre for our existence.

  • Andrea

    Even if you don’t care about the Fisheries Act, by putting the legislation change into the next federal budget – no debate, no review. First, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, now Fisheries Act, what piece of legislation will be next?

  • cheryl huxted

    this very low and sneeky! I hope you and all members that support it are willing to move to the lands where the pipelines are? Or maybe buy a condo beside the tar sands. ….No?…..I didnt think so. First our air, now our water, is our food going to be next? Oh wait, you wont have to cause we,ll all be dead! Extreme..yes…but so are PC,s. What happened to you guys?

  • Hugo

    It seems the change will be made through a provision in the next federal budget act, which is not subjected to the usual parliamentary debates and commission reviews applicable to regular bills – another example of disregard for democratic debate by the current federal government?

  • Liz Hendriks

    Need help writing a letter to your MP? Here is a pre-written letter (http://www.sierraclub.bc.ca/take-action/seafood-oceans/fish-habitat-protection-must-remain-law/view) that will also be sent to:
    – Minister Keith Ashfield (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans)
    – Mr. Fin Donnelly (NDP Critic, Fisheries and Oceans)
    – Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Prime Minister of Canada)

  • Katie Wyer

    Canada needs to make a stand for the wildlife and their habitats in Canada. Everyone talks about being ” green” but it’s easy to talk rather than take action. I feel our lakes and rivers in Canada are so important. We have so much fresh water in our country why do we want to harm it. Our oceans over the years have had hard times. Enough is enough. Make a stand Canada protect our waters. The fishery act was set in place for a reason, why now do we think that reason is not important?