Amendments to the federal Fisheries Act that would essentially remove protection of fish habitat from the legislation are secretly to be proposed for consideration within weeks, according to a former federal fisheries officer who was leaked the information.
Otto Langer says the changes to Section 35(1) of the act would only call prevention of habitat damage that would adversely impact “fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.”
Yet he points out that all fish and their habitat are part of a food chain, with wide-ranging impacts to birds and wildlife as well, when fish habitat is damaged.
However, Kelowna-Lake Country MP Ron Cannan, contacted in Ottawa on Wednesday by the Capital News, said he has heard many concerns about the current fisheries policy. “It goes beyond what is needed to protect fish habitat,” he said.
However, Cannan said the leaked document is nothing but pre-budget speculation, and it is the first he’s heard about the proposed changes.
“I know fisheries policies are being reviewed,” he admitted.
He pointed to difficulties in planning to rebuild the Okanagan Safe Harbour in Lake Country because of onerous fish habitat requirements.
Langer says he was involved in achieving protection for fish habitat in the act, as it was amended in 1975, and the changes proposed today would gut it. “We’d be stepping back in time,” he said.
The amended section would represent a significant loss, he noted. “It’s hard to believe this is happening in Canada,” he added.
The altered language waters down the legislation and would make it impossible to successfully prosecute those who destroy fish habitat, he said.
Already, he noted, in the past few years federal fisheries staff in B.C. have been cut in half and there are far fewer convictions for contraventions.
In the past decade he has received a number of provincial and federal awards for his conservation work, and Langer is the author of Stain Upon the Sea, dedicated to exposing the salmon farm industry in B.C.
Langer has been interviewed by newspapers across Canada and the U.S. about the leaked information since he sent it out earlier this week.
One of those who read about it was Rick Simpson of Kelowna, co-chair of the fisheries committee of the Okanagan Region of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. Simpson e says there is passionate opposition to such changes. “This would give industry carte blanche,” he commented.
It’s especially of concern when millions are being spent to rehabilitate damaged fish habitat, such as along the Okanagan River, and even more is being spent to try and re-establish the sockeye populations up the Columbia and Okanagan Rivers to Skaha and Okanagan Lakes, he pointed out.
“I feel badly for my kids if this goes through,” he said.
“But, it will take more than a couple of newspaper articles to prevent it; they can do what they want,” he added, referring to the Conservative majority in Parliament.