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Proposed Amendments to the Fisheries Act

04 May 2012

CANADA - Proposed changes to the Fisheries Act would result in a shift for Fisheries and Oceans Canada from a focus on managing impacts to all fish habitat, to managing threats to fisheries. These amendments would support the long-term productivity and sustainability of Canada’s commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries.

The current Fisheries Act provisions used for the review of project impacts are indiscriminate and require consideration of all projects, on all waters, regardless of the importance of fish species present or their contribution to fisheries. In addition, the current provisions do not provide the tools necessary to manage the types of threats we see today.

Managing Threats to Commercial, Recreational and Aboriginal Fisheries

The Department’s goal is to move away from reviewing all projects on all waters, to focusing on managing threats to Canada’s commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries.

These proposed amendments would allow Fisheries and Oceans Canada to manage a range of threats, including the killing of fish, the permanent alteration and destruction of fish habitat, and aquatic invasive species.

In support of the effective management of threats to fisheries:

  • the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans would be enabled, through regulations, to identify ecologically significant areas for fisheries and ensure higher levels of protection for these areas;
  • conditions to Fisheries Act authorizations would be enforceable; and
  • penalties under the Fisheries Act would be harmonized with those in the Environmental Enforcement Act, resulting in appropriate fines based upon the severity of the offences.

Providing Regulatory Clarity, Certainty and Consistency

In addition to the effective management of threats to fisheries, the proposed amendments include means to improve regulatory clarity, certainty and consistency.

  • By clarifying situations where development poses the highest risk to fish and fish habitat and those areas of limited risk, a proponent would better understand when a project requires review and when it would not.
  • Rules would be established that enable proponents to comply with the Fisheries Act while carrying out their projects. This would include identifying classes of low-risk works (such as installing a cottage dock) and classes of waters where project reviews would not be required.
  • For medium-risk projects, standards for authorisation would be established, allowing proponents to carry out their projects by following those standards.
  • The legislative amendments would provide greater flexibility for managing deposits of deleterious substances under the Fisheries Act.
  • Transparent information requirements would be established for project proponents and legally-binding time limits would ensure timely issuance of authorizations under the Fisheries Act.

Enhancing Partnerships

There are also proposed amendments in support of enhancing partnerships with provinces and territories, industry and conservation groups.

  • Where provinces and territories have laws or regulations for fisheries protection, including the deposit of deleterious substances, amendments would enable the provincial laws or regulations to be recognised as equivalent, such that the Fisheries Act or its regulations would not apply.
  • The Minister would have the authority to incorporate by reference fisheries protection standards established by others (such as a province or industry) that are recognised as best practices.
  • The amendments would enable the government to allow other regulators, such as a province, or a federal agency (for example the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission), to issue authorizations under the Fisheries Act.
  • The Department would also be able to enter into agreements with third parties (such as conservation groups or professional organizations) to carry out and further the purposes of the Act, including ensuring that newly proposed standards are communicated and clearly understood.

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