Fin in the House: Responding to Bill C-68 (changes to the Fisheries Act)

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence.

I would like to point out at the onset that we welcome the legislation to restore HADD, harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, to the act. We believe the Liberals should have done this immediately following the last federal election. There is no excuse for waiting.

Back in 2012, when the Conservative government gutted habitat protection from the act, 600 scientists and four former fisheries ministers, including two Conservatives, wrote to the government, stating that the changes in the act “would be a most unwise action, which would jeopardize many important fish stocks and the lakes, estuaries and rivers that support them.” They were right.

Over the past six years since these changes, the number of charges relating to a violation of the new section 35 under the weakened Fisheries Act legislation was zero. That means since 2012, there have been no charges. This, despite the fact that according to documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun in 2016, there were almost 1,900 complaints.

The vague language in the Conservative bill made it impossible to prove that a project would kill fish. Once habitat protections were restored to the act, we believed a thorough review to improve and modernize the Fisheries Act would engage Canadians, would be based on science, indigenous, and community knowledge, and the precautionary principle would have been undertaken, immediately after the 2015 election. That would have been the responsible thing to do, but here we are today, two years later, and finally we have this legislation.

The Fisheries Act is the key federal law for fish habitat protection and one of the key laws for marine biodiversity, and is an essential part of Canada's environmental safety net.

When announcing this legislation, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard said that he was open to amendments that would strengthen the bill. Therefore, we will be proposing amendments for consideration.

In Bill C-68, the definition of fish habitat is improved by referring to the water fish need for survival. However, the proposed amendments do not include explicit legal protection for environmental flows, the amount and type of water needed for fish and aquatic ecosystems to flourish.

What are environmental flows? The Brisbane Declaration provides the most widely accepted and applied definition. It says, “Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well-being that depend on these ecosystems.” Another document, which discussed the Brisbane Declaration, stated, “environmental flows are essential for providing both direct and indirect benefits on which current and future generations rely.”

We heard from Linda Nowlan of West Coast Environmental Law about the importance of protecting environmental flows at fisheries committee. She testified:

....the act must protect key elements of fish habitat, including environmental flows. The Fisheries Act should provide a legally binding national flow standard to conserve the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows, also known as environmental flows.

CSAS scientists point to this issue as a deficiency in the current regime and say that a national standard is needed. The act should define conditions of flow alteration that constitute HADD based on science advice from the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat and used by DFO. Our brief contains more information on that. These are key changes, and if enacted, they will demonstrate the government's commitment to modernize the act.

I certainly agree with her, and on this would encourage the government to review West Coast Environmental Law Association's brief, “Habitat 2.0: A New Approach to Canada's Fisheries Act”, which includes an entire section on the importance of environmental flows.

One of the greatest disappointments of the legislation is that it would not remove the promotion of unsafe salmon farming practices and farmed salmon as a product from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans mandate, which in turn would lower impacts to wild salmon.

The government should be commended, however, for its commitment to the precautionary principle but it needs to show it with action.

The precautionary principle recognizes that in the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures can and should be taken when there is a lack of knowledge of a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the environment and/or resources using the best available information. Under this principle, the trigger for government action to protect wild salmon is for science to demonstrate the existence of more than a minimal risk.

In my province of British Columbia, the evidence has been piling up. Graphic videos have surfaced of virus-laden bloody discharge from farmed salmon processors spewing directly into the ocean, where wild salmon migrate, blood which has been confirmed to be infected with the highly infectious virus piscine reovirus, or PRV.

CTV's W5 covered first nations' occupation of open-net salmon farms on the west coast, as the minister knows. It showed footage that contained graphic images of deformed farmed salmon and spoke about the disastrous effects of spreading disease, which, on an industrial scale, has an impact on our wild salmon population.

The documentary relayed the struggle of environmental activists to remove open-net salmon farms from wild salmon migration routes, highlighted how the farms were spreading dangerous viruses like PRV to wild salmon, and how their expansion had correlated to the dramatic decline of B.C.'s wild salmon fishery. Further, the documentary showed how the salmon farm industry colluded with government to deny what DFO had already confirmed, and that is that PRV is present in farmed salmon and is spreading to wild salmon.

In British Columbia, Gary Marty, the head scientist-veterinarian in charge of testing for disease also co-authors industry-boosting papers with Marine Harvest, the largest player in the B.C. industry.

Clearly, the federal government is in conflict because the department's mandate contains a provision to promote the salmon aquaculture industry. This goes against the Cohen Commission recommendations, specifically recommendation 3, which says, “The Government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.”

In the W5 documentary, the minister said that the government was committed to not expanding the industry until the science was settled. Even the department's own scientists have shown PRV and HSMI have entered the wild in the Pacific Ocean. How much more risk do we need to demonstrate before it takes action? Clearly, this industry presents more than a minimal risk. It is time to get these diseased-ridden farms off of the wild salmon migration routes.

Last week, I was copied on a letter to the Prime Minister from Chief Ernest Alfred of the 'Namgis First Nation. He wants the Prime Minister to know why they walked out of his town hall meeting in Nanaimo. It is an important message that everyone in government needs to hear. I would like to read it onto the record. It states:

Open letter to the Government of Canada

Dear Mr. [Prime Minister],

I've been asked to provide an explanation as to why our People walked out of the Town Hall in Nanaimo. Important statements needed to be made to your Government, and on behalf of our People, I'd like to strongly express our total frustration for not getting the chance to address our serious concerns.

Representatives of numerous First Nations can be clearly seen seated in front of the giant Canadian flag. I am dressed in a Peace Dance Headdress. One that we use to show our peaceful welcome, and resolve. I am also wearing a woven cedar bark tunic used in war. My peace headdress was quickly removed after we left the building. A symbolic act to show the total lack of respect being shown our Nations. In our territorial waters off the Broughton Archipelago, war has been declared against us, and the livelihoods of our coastal People.

168 days ago, we started Occupations on the fish farms in our territories. Our mission has been to peacefully record, report and protest the illegal practices in our waters. This mission is not a new one. Our People have been demanding the removal of these feedlots for over 30 years. Until now, we have never had an investigation into fish farm operations in this manner before. This self-regulated industry cannot be trusted with such important information. To be very frank, we have become more than frustrated and impatient. During the last 168 days, we've seen Fisheries Officers only twice. There is no problem with Piscine Reovirus, and that is because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been trying to hide it. [The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans] has teamed up with Marine Harvest and is fighting us in Court. It seems to me that the Government of Canada is attempting to reconcile with Norway but using our territory to do that. That is wrong! Our waters have never been surrendered, neither has our lands and our hereditary rights to oversee them.

The very status of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago have come into serious question. A Norwegian Invasion has taken place in our waters and we have been forced to act to defend our investments in wild salmon. Eviction notices have been given, heavy RCMP involvement, arrests, B.C. Supreme Court proceedings, lost aquaculture industry status and reputation, Government reviews and investigations have had little or no influence on the reckless practices of the aquaculture industry, within our territories. In fact, the companies have restocked almost all the fish farms in our waters, against numerous warnings of serious consequences. We have had enough!

First Nations People, environmental groups, ecotourism organizations, and countless wild salmon economy contributors, from one end of the Province to the other, have shown us their full support and solidarity. Emails of support continue to pour in from all over the world. It seems as if British Columbia's fish farm industry has the world's attention. Meanwhile, I find it troubling, sad and embarrassing that we do not have the attention of the Federal Government of Canada. We are all saying the same thing.

Our wild salmon economy must be protected. The jobs that fish farms provide will still be there when the farms are moved to shore using closed containment technology. The economy that is so important to your government will return along the west coast. Fish farms do not create jobs - Fish farms have killed jobs along the coast!

The Federal Government must remove the open net fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago that have remained in the territories of 6 allied Nations without the consent or consultation for over 30 years. Immediate action is required if the Federal Government has any hopes of reconciliation in our territories.

With all due respect, stand with us!

Sincerely, Kwakwabalas

Chief Ernest Alfred

Swanson Island Occupation--'Namgis First Nation

Clearly, first nations have had enough. How can a government that purports a true nation-to-nation government relationship with first nations ignore these pleas for action? It is shameful. I implore the government to listen. No more studies, no more words, it is time for action. Please meet with them.

In 2017, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans studied the Fisheries Act. The New Democratic Party of Canada submitted recommendations to be incorporated into the Fisheries Act in order to fully modernize it. We recommend that in order to advance the nation-to-nation relationship with first nations, a new modernized fisheries act should: one, recognize indigenous rights in the act; two, move beyond delegation to work with first nations as full partners in fisheries management; three, recognize first nations' right to commercial trade and barter opportunities; four, include guiding principles of reconciliation that allow for and promote consent-based shared decision-making processes, for example, co-management or co-governance with first nations, and that have the flexibility to reconcile pre-existing sovereignty and first nations jurisdictional authority; five, expand factors considered in decision-making to include principles of sustainability, including ecological integrity and cultural sustainability, indigenous law, protection of inherent aboriginal rights, and the principles found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and finally, ensure meaningful consultation, accommodation, and a consent-seeking process with first nations to build new regulations.

I hope those recommendations can be incorporated into Bill C-68 at the committee stage.

Another concern we have is that Bill C-68 gives the minister too much arbitrary power to authorize harmful development and industrial projects. I hope the government will consider amendments to update language in the bill to require decisions based on scientific evidence rather than the minister's opinion. Let us put science in and keep the politics out.

Martin Olszynski, an assistant professor in law at the University of Calgary, an expert in fishery law, agrees. He is quoted in DeSmog Canada as saying:

[T]here's an unfortunate use of "discretionary language, meaning that many components of the proposed legislation are basically up to the opinion of the minister—and requiring no specific evidence.

He went on to say:

For example, there's a section about implementing measures to manage the decline of fish stocks. The newly amended legislation includes the phrase “if the Minister is of the opinion that a fish stock that has declined to its limit reference point or that is below that point would be impacted.” That's not satisfactory for some.

In the same article, Brett Favaro, research scientist at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University said:

I was hoping for a line that was not “if the minister is of the opinion that a fish stock has declined”, but “if the fish stock has declined as determined by the best available evidence then there should be measures in place aimed at rebuilding the stock.”

I am hopeful that we will be able to clean up some of these language issues at committee.

Bill C-68 also enacts the NDP recommendation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on rebuilding. We recommended that in order to prioritize the protection of fish and fish habitat, a new modernized Fisheries Act should mandate rebuilding fish stocks when they have fallen below healthy levels and mandate a report annually to Parliament on the status of Canada's fish stocks and the management decisions made for stocks in critical zones.

In October 2017, Oceana Canada released a comprehensive review of the state of Canada's fisheries and the first annual assessment of how the government is managing them. The results were alarming. They revealed that Canadian fisheries are in serious trouble with only one-third of stocks considered healthy and 13% of those in critical condition. Further, 36% could not be determined due to insufficient information.

Although the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported 19 Canadian marine stocks in critical condition, Oceana found 26 in its analysis using the same sources of information. At the time of the report, Dr. Robert Rangeley, director of science, Oceana Canada stated, “What's more concerning is that there are only three plans in place to rebuild these 26 dangerously depleted populations."

It is shameful that Canada lags behind international standards of sustainable fisheries management. In countries where governments are legally obligated to rebuild, fish populations have bounced back. The numbers are impressive. Mandatory rebuilding in the United States has meant that in the last 20 years, 43 stocks have been rebuilt. Those stocks now generate on average 50% more revenue than when they were overfished.

This is the first time rebuilding of depleted fish stocks has been included in Canada's Fisheries Act; however, details on rebuilding will be in the regulations. This does concern me, but if those regulations are strong, with timelines and targets, and if they consider the impacts of climate change and species interactions, we will be on a path to success.

I will finish with a quote by Susanna Fuller from the Ecology Action Centre, who agrees. She stated:

We will continue to advocate that the regulations require timelines and targets as well as an ecosystem approach to rebuilding, taking into account impacts of climate change and species interactions.