By Denise Dalmer, Director, Environment and
Sustainability, Business Council of British Columbia
Vancouver August 10, 2012 - Recent changes to
the Federal Fisheries Act had been the subject of
considerable speculation until the Harper Government's 2012 Omnibus
Budget Bill was tabled earlier this year confirming the details of
the proposed changes, some of which became law on June 29,
The British Columbia Business Council's latest Environment
and Energy Bulletin clarifies some of the misconceptions about
the changes to the original Act, which is nearly 100 years old, and
outlines what these changes mean for the business community.
All legislation can and should be reviewed/revised from time to
time to reflect modern interpretation, case law, in-the-field
practice and new knowledge. Currently, there are at least 16
existing provincial and federal environment-related statues that
touch on or can be used to protect fish and fish habitat.
One could argue that the Fisheries Act
amendments have caught the federal government up with provinces
like BC, which has had enforcement provisions in the Environmental
Management Act and its predecessor, the Waste Management Act, for
As Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP environmental lawyer Paul
"The changes to the Fishers Act are at a minimum, neutral,
and the constraints put on business activities may be more
stringent than what existed under the "old" Fisheries Act. What the
changes do is modernize this 100 year old legislation, make it
consistent with other existing environmental legislation, codify
what decision makers have been doing in practice, and draw stronger
lines around what they can and cannot do."
Other items of note included in the Bulletin:
- The modernized Act will be based on a more
science-based investigation of the consequences of a project or
activity on the productive capacity of the habitat to support the
- Defining the fisheries as commercial, recreational, or
Aboriginal confirms that the Act applies to all types of
- Under the new legislation, inspectors and officers have
broadened authorities to issue orders regarding activities that
cause potentially harmful deposits or impact fish habitat;
furthermore ,the self-reporting requirements have been expanded to
include impacts on fish habitat.
- The modernized legislation should enable a greater degree or
coordination/cooperation with other levels of government in respect
of fisheries-related regulation.
- The changes will see the Department of Fisheries and Oceans
less involved in future environmental assessments, which should
free up DFO staff resources for other purposes.
Overall, the Business Council concludes that the revised
Fisheries Act, contrary to the claims of critics, will not
significantly weaken what traditionally has been the main federal
regulatory regime for the protection of fisheries.
The full Environment and Energy Bulletin
is available here