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The federal government has announced certain details about how it intends to overhaul the Fisheries Act. Reform of the Fisheries Act forms part of a broader suite of reforms to Canada’s environmental protection regime which is currently being undertaken by the federal government. These include amendments to the laws governing the National Energy Board, environmental assessments, and navigable waterways.

The previous Conservative government brought in controversial changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012. Those changes were viewed as being an erosion of certain protections to fish and fish habitat by limiting protections to fish that are related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery.

Perhaps of most interest, the changes to the Fisheries Act currently being contemplated would roll back the changes made by the Conservative government and restore protections to all fish and fish habitat. This will no doubt have implications for farmers, industry, and other actors who face a wider scope of harm to fish and habitat once again subject to prosecution.

An interesting addition being proposed would prohibit the capture of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) for the purpose of keeping them in captivity except in case of the animal’s injury, distress, or need of care.

The proposed changes also include provision for the creation of marine refuges—areas where fishing activities would be restricted so as to protect marine biodiversity.

Additional proposed changes to the Fisheries Act include:

  • Incorporation of some formal recognition that fisheries-related decisions “can” be guided by principles of precaution, sustainability, and ecosystem management;
  • Enhancement of the role of indigenous people, by requiring that traditional knowledge be considered in making fish habitat-related decisions and that potential adverse impacts to indigenous rights be considered in making decisions;
  • Inclusion of mechanisms to address offences outside of courts; and
  • Promotion of the restoration of habitat and fish stocks.

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