7 Dec 2017 – The Sun Times (Owen Sound)
Canada needs to do more to protect all fish and their habitats.
A diverse range of experts from across Canada met in Alberta last week to seek collaborative solutions for fish, wildlife and biodiversity conservation.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Summit features perspectives from Indigenous peoples, conservation organizations, academics, industry and government. The protection and restoration of aquatic habitat is one of the most important issues on the table.
The sad reality is that fish habitat is declining in Canada. While the government continues to move forward with important amendments to the Fisheries Act, the real challenge will be on how the new law is implemented.
Protecting and restoring fish habitat will only be successful if it is done collaboratively with many stakeholders that either impact Canada’s rivers, lakes and oceans, hold responsibility for their management or are concerned for the future of fish and habitat. To address this need, the Canadian Wildlife Federation is creating a national partnership for fish habitat conservation.
Canada’s aquatic ecosystems are imperiled by a range of threats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, alteration of water flows, barriers to fish passage, harmful aquaculture practices and climate change.
Restoration and protection efforts aimed at reversing the national trend are underway across Canadian watersheds. Many organizations are providing rigorous, evidence-based policy advice to governments and industry to better protect aquatic habitat. These efforts need to be supported and integrated into Canada’s implementation of an amended Fisheries Act.
Fish and fisheries are an important part of the economy and culture of Canada. In fact, commercial and recreational fisheries represent a $14 billion per year industry in Canada.
In 2016, CWF testified before the standing committee on Fisheries and Oceans, presenting several recommendations. Since the new Fisheries Act will likely be introduced in 2018, this is an important issue. Canadians continue to advocate for needed changes.
1. Protect all fish: The current Fisheries Act only protects fish that are part of a fishery or support such fisheries. The concept of ecosystem-based management has largely replaced efforts to manage individual species, yet recent changes to the Fisheries Act defy this trend. Maintaining healthy fish habitat is the best way to protect our ecosystems, so we must restore protections against harmful alteration, disruption and destruction to all fish and their habitats.
2. Think beyond the water: What happens on land affects our lakes and rivers, especially along riverbanks, shorelines and coastlines. This riparian zone filters pollution and runoff, regulates water flow and temperature and provides nutrients and habitat to aquatic ecosystems. Right now, only water based activities are covered by federal law. Thinking about land activities and how they affect water is important, too.
3. Establish strong tools to ensure those who impact fish habitat offset the harm: Establishing a public record of all projects occurring on or near the water would help enforce the law and support public reports of possible infractions. We also need to ensure harmful commercial activities are sufficiently offset. For projects that cause minor harm, offset fees could be a good alternative. Such fees could accumulate in a habitat restoration fund with disbursement guided by collaboratively set restoration priorities.
This helps ensure that even minor destruction or alteration of fish habitat contributes to larger restoration goals without requiring a lengthy environmental review process for routine projects. Finally, Canada should carefully expand the role of habitat banking in compensating for impacts. This creates a bank of habitat credits that can be purchased to offset harm caused by a project. If done well, it can allow for more strategic use of offset and better outcomes for fish and fish habitat.
We must work together to ensure enhanced protection and improvement to aquatic habitat to achieve a future with abundant, high-quality habitat and thriving fish and wildlife populations. For more information, visit conservationsummit2017.ca
- RICK BATES Rick Bates is CEO of the Canadian Wildlife Federation, a national, not-for-profit charitable organization