03/19/2012 05:37 EDT | Updated 05/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Government to Gut the Fisheries Act


Until recently I knew next to nothing about Canada's Fisheries Act. I rather astutely assumed it had something to do with protecting fish, but that is where it ended.

Not long ago I learned about section 36-3 of the Act, which prevents the dumping of "deleterious substances" into bodies of water in Canada deemed fish habitat. Environmental groups were recently challenging Canada's tar sands industries by calling on the federal government to enforce this subsection in regards to the impact on the Athabasca river -- home to a number of fish species -- from tar sands tailings entering the waterway. The calls were dismissed and ignored, but recently something even worse came to the surface: The Canadian government wants to gut, pun intended, the fisheries act.

Recently, leaked information has shown that the Canadian government is considering drastic changes to section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act, removing provisions that prevent any industrial activities which "result in the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat."

So, why should you care?

Apart from the simple explanation that these changes to the fisheries act could open the door to un-regulated dumping of polluting substances into our waterways (provoking a situation I imagine would be close to this), provisions of the Fisheries Act also serve as one of the most important triggers of Canada's Environmental Impact Assessment process.

In other words, these changes are not simply endangering fish habitat, they have the potential to effectively ensure that no extractive industry projects receive any form of meaningful federal environmental review. The Fisheries Act served as an essential stop-gap on the expansion of destructive projects, but to the fossil fuel industry and their allies, it is also an Achilles heel that could be used to do nefarious things -- like stopping the use of lakes as tailings dumps.

From a climate change perspective, this means that the pathway forward for new mining projects from the tar sands to coal have an already easy road made even easier. That means Canada, already one the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, will be extracting more and more climate change inducing fossil fuels. Canada will be further endangering the lives of people in the most vulnerable parts of our planet, and threatening the future of my generation, and those to come.

The importance of maintaining the integrity of Canada's Fisheries Act is indicative of the already weak state of environmental protection in Canada. With global temperatures continuing to rise, the amount of fresh, clean, and drinkable water on our planet diminishing and our planet's life support system showing signs of stress day after day, this is the time to strengthen environmental protection, not gut it to achieve short-sighted pipe(line) dreams.