Canadian ENGO Position on Bill C-45: A Proposal to Amend Canada’s Fisheries Act

Canadian Environmental Organizations Call for the Withdrawal of Bill C-45

Media Backgrounder – February 13, 2007


Canada’s Fisheries Act was written in 1868 as the first piece of legislation after the BNA Act, giving Canada its sovereignty. The Act has many weaknesses and is in dire need of updating. Despite its shortcomings, however, it has been one of the few pieces of Canadian legislation that mandates some protection for oceans, clean water, and fish habitat.

A revised and updated Fisheries Act, Bill C-45, was introduced into the House of Commons on December 13, 2006 without meaningful consultation with environmentalists, First Nations, many sectors of the fishing industry, and other interested stakeholders. In fact, DFO senior habitat management officials expressly refused a request from environmental organizations to review and comment on the bill before it was tabled.

The Conservatives plan to introduce Bill C-45 for second reading in mid-February 2007. If the Bill passes second reading, it will be handed over to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, who will prepare the Bill for third reading. The Committee will only consider comments on the Bill that relate to express provisions. They are not tasked with evaluating the fundamental approach the Act takes, nor the potentially different ways in which sustainable fisheries management in Canada might better be achieved.

ENGO Position:

While Canadian ENGOs are strongly in favour of an updated, more effective Fisheries Act that takes into consideration the ecological realities of the 21st Century, Bill C-45 is not it. Canadian ENGOs are united in calling on the Conservative government to withdraw this Bill before second reading and create an Act that will take into consideration the current crisis in our oceans, lakes, and rivers; ensure the recovery of Atlantic groundfish, strengthen the health of all marine life, and provide a legacy for future generations that we can be proud of.

The following are some of Bill C-45’s key shortcomings:

  1. There is a focus on economics over ecosystems.

    The marine environment, globally, is in crisis. A 21st Century Fisheries Act should require the Fisheries Minister to address conservation concerns as the highest priority. The Preamble to the bill creates the false impression that an ecosystem approach to the management of Canada’s fisheries will prevail over all else. However, the Bill itself does not create any mandatory requirements for an ecosystem-based management approach. Instead, economic considerations can override conservation concerns. In this regard, Bill C-45 actually worsens existing problems within the Fisheries Act

  2. The Minister has the ability to authorize open ocean aquaculture for the first time and this has not been subject to public consultation in any form.
  3. Bill C-45 grants the Minister power to delegate conservation, protection and management of the fishery to other levels of government, undefined “classes of people”, and organizations.

    The enormous discretion granted to the federal Minister to delegate fishery management represents a major abdication of federal responsibility for the protection of Canada’s fisheries.


    • Section 43 allows the Minister to enter into agreements with an organization (“class of people” or “holders”) to conserve, protect and manage the fishery. This will further support the alarming trend toward privatization of the fishery. It will allow corporations and industry to take on increasing responsibilities for the conservation and management of our oceans.
    • Section 23 allows Cabinet to delegate all of its powers and authority over proper fisheries management and conservation and protection of fish to the provinces.
  4. Bill C-45 is riddled with loopholes which provide for conservation in one clause and negate it in the next. The Minister is granted far too much discretion through the use of “may” versus “must”.

    For example:

    • The Bill fails to respond to long-standing requests that fishing authorizations with the potential to harm fish habitat be subject to some level of environmental assessment. While Section 59 (1) prohibits the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, Section 59 (2) (b) puts into law the current policy of DFO to allow the destruction of fish habitat by anybody with a fishing license.
    • Section 25 (1) (a) provides the only protection for fish habitat from destructive fishing practices in the entire Act. It is immediately negated by Section 25 (1) (c) which states the equal importance to fishers of allocation stability.
  5. The Minister and fisheries managers are still under no obligation to identify
    fish habitat and protect this habitat from destructive fishing practices.
    • Section 25 (1) only requires the Minister to take habitat “into consideration” when issuing licenses and allocations.
    • There is no requirement in the Bill for the Minister to actively seek out and protect fish habitat.
    • If the Minister becomes aware of habitat requiring protection, they are under no obligation to actually do something to conserve and protect it, just take it into consideration.
  6. Bill C-45 does not include any clear environmental standards or criteria.

    The Bill puts off setting environmental standards until a future time when regulations may be written. Allowing our oceans and fisheries to be governed by DFO-drafted regulations, rather than by legislation subject to Parliamentary scrutiny, will inevitably result in weaker environmental protection and enforcement.

  7. The Allocation Provisions are irresponsible.

    The new Act allows for allocation decisions for percentage of a fishable stock for up to 15 years. Such an allocation does not reflect the sad state of our fish stocks nor the reality of annual fluctuations in fish stocks. It will create an expectation of a right to fish and a political pressure to let fishermen access their allocated fish. The collapse of Atlantic cod stocks illustrates the outcome that can be expected when sustaining economic interests takes priority over sustaining fish.

  8. This is a missed opportunity to do better.

    The most disappointing aspect of Bill C-45 is that it misses the opportunity to take any meaningful steps towards proper fisheries management in the future. Other fisheries legislation such as the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (1972), and even the sadly neglected Canadian Oceans Act, create better frameworks for responsible fisheries management. Achieving “sustainable fisheries” requires more that putting words on paper in a purpose statement. It requires setting enforceable priorities and standards, and creating built in limits in the legislation to guard against the inevitable day to day pressure that leads to exploitation of the resource. A truly “modern” 21st Century Fisheries Act would, at minimum, include the following:

    1. Acknowledgement of the current threats to fish stocks and the marine environment and clear provisions intended to address such threats;
    2. Mandatory identification and protection of critical fish habitat and other environmental standards;
    3. Opportunity for public participation in decision making.

Click here FOR A COPY OF BILL C-45.

The Following Organizations Support This Document:

Alberta Wilderness Association. Contact: Martha Kostuch (403) 283-2025

B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers. Contact: Peter Caverhill (604) 461-4503

B.C. Nature (Federation of B.C. Naturalists) Contact: Elaine Golds (604) 737-3057

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Contact: Sabine Jessen (604) 657-2813

Club d’ornithologie du Madawaska, ltée. Contact: J. Denys Bourque, R.P.F. (506) 739-6471

Como Watershed Group. Contact: Pamela Zevitt (604) 939-0523

David Suzuki Foundation. Contact: John Werring (604) 732-4228 x 245

Earth Action, Prince Edward Island. Contact: Dr Irene Novaczek, (902) 964 2781

Ecology Action Centre. Contact: Susanna Fuller (902) 442-5046

Ecotrust Canada. Contact: Brenda Reid-Kuecks (604) 682-4141 x 33

Environmental Law Centre. Contact: Jason M. Unger (780) 424-5099

Fisheries Recovery Action Committee. Fred Winsor: (709) 738-3781

Friends Fundy Footpaths. Contact: Alonzo Léger: (506) 386-2867

Friends of the Oldman River. Contact: Cliff Wallis (403) 271-1408

Georgia Strait Alliance. Contact: Christianne Wilhelmson (604) 633-0530

Great Lakes United. Contact: Jennifer Nalbone (716) 213-0408

Greenpeace Canada. Contact: Bruce Cox (416) 597-8408

Living Oceans Society. Contact: Dorthea Hangaard (250) 973-6580

Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society. Contact: Juergen Hansen (250) 494-9265

Ottawa Riverkeeper. Contact: Meredith Brown (613) 864-7442

Public for the Protection of the Forests of New Brunswick. Contact: Roger Babin (506) 775-6639

Raincoast Conservation Society. Contact: Nicola Temple (250) 655-1229

Sierra Club of Canada. Contact: Stephen Hazell (613) 241-4611

Sierra Legal. Contact: Margot Venton and Lara Tessaro, office (604) 685-5618 x 245 and cell (604) 313-3132

SOS Eau Water Sankwan Inc. Contact: Louisa Barton-Duguay (506) 382-0592

Toxics Watch Society of Alberta. Contact: Myles Kitagawa (780) 439 1912

Watershed Watch Salmon Society. Contact: Craig Orr (604) 936-9474

West Coast Environmental Law. Contact: Susan Rutherford (604) 684-7378

Yukon Conservation Society. Contact: Karen Baltgailis (867) 668-5678