value of scientific research, health of Canadian aquatic ecosystems, government science capacity
More than 2,500 independent scientists and academics signed letters to protest changes to the Fisheries Act after they were leaked to the public in March 2012. Recommendations by Jeffrey Hutchings, then president of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, and David Schindler, representing 625 Canadian fisheries scientists, were ignored — as were the concerns of former fisheries ministers, both Liberal and Conservative, that the changes were contained in an omnibus budget bill.
As a result of the changes in the legislation, fewer fish are protected by the Fisheries Act as of June 2012. The Act formerly covered all fish habitats, the law now prohibits only “serious harm” to fish “that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.”
However, since a key decision by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 1979, regulators, industries, aboriginal communities and others all understand that it is impossible to differentiate between the habitats of fish species that are useful to humans and those that are not.
For nearly 37 years, the Fisheries Act was recognized internationally as an example of a law based on scientific understanding of the interconnected nature of aquatic ecosystems.
Shortly after the changes to the Fisheries Act, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans terminated the jobs of fish habitat officers in its 48 local habitat offices.