by SUSAN MANN
The federal government’s move to focus its fisheries protection efforts on significant threats rather than routine projects like farmers clearing out drainage ditches is long over due, says Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales.
“It will really help sort out some of the blockages in getting farmer built drains cleaned out on a regular basis,” he says. “It should speed the process up.”
The government announced April 24 it’s moving away from reviewing all projects on all waterways and instead focusing on those that may significantly impact Canada’s fisheries.
Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield says in a press release the government will adopt a more sensible and practical approach to protecting Canada’s fisheries and make sure they are productive and sustainable for future generations.
The changes mean the government will be focusing protection rules on real and significant threats to fisheries and the habitats that support them while setting clear standards and guidelines for routine projects.
For landowners and municipalities the proposed new measures would provide regulatory certainty on whether and how the fisheries’ protection provisions would apply to them.
Barry Vrbanovic, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, says in a press release that by reducing the time municipal employees are forced to spend filling out forms and waiting for federal approvals, the federal government’s changes will make it faster and less expensive for local governments to perform routine services, such as clearing ditches and repairing storm water systems.
Tom Black, president of the Ontario Landowners Association, also applauds the proposed Fisheries Act changes. But he’d wants to talk to the minister and his staff to find out “how complicated or uncomplicated this is going to turn out to be.” That’s something they won’t know until the regulations are developed, he adds.
Ashfield says the current rules governing fish habitat protection are indiscriminate and unfocused and don’t reflect the priorities of Canadians. Under the Fisheries Act there’s no distinction between vital waterways, lakes and rivers that support Canada’s fisheries and small bodies of water that may not even be home to fish.
For example, under the current system the same rules and guidelines that apply to rivers, lakes and oceans supporting fish and local fisheries are in place for drainage ditches, man-made reservoirs and irrigation channels.
But the department is moving away from managing impacts in all areas that may or may not contain fish to a fisheries protection program that manages threats to the recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries. The threats include habitat destruction, incidental killing of fish and aquatic invasive species.
Existing rules will continue to protect waterways from pollution as they have in the past. BF