The federal government of Canada has proposed sweeping amendments to the Fisheries Act in its omnibus Budget Bill (Bill C-38). Here is what the Fisheries Act amendments may mean for First Nations:
- Fish habitat will now only be protected under s. 35(1) of the Fisheries Act if the habitat is for a fish that is part of a recreational, commercial or Aboriginal fishery, or a fish that supports that fishery. This means that habitat for smaller fish species, like habitat in small streams and wetlands, will be left vulnerable to alteration and destruction.
- To get protection for fish habitat, First Nations may be forced to expend their limited resources convincing DFO that the fish habitat supports an Aboriginal fishery.
- The fisheries Minister will be able to regulate broad exemptions to s. 35(1) for classes of activities and locations. This will leave areas of fish habitat open for development even if that development alters or destroys fish habitat. It will also even further reduce DFO’s oversight of projects that may impact fish habitat.
- The federal government will also get broad powers to offload its responsibilities onto provinces, including ordering that certain Fisheries Act provisions do not apply in a given province
For more details on these amendments and their implication for First Nations, please see my briefing on the amendments to the Fisheries Act.