On June 20, 2018, legislation that will bring important changes to the Fisheries Act passed Third Reading in the House of Commons.

For Canadian environmental and conservation organizations, this marks a critical milestone on the road to restoring lost protections for fish and fish habitat and introducing new, modern safeguards to address 21st century realities such as increasing pollution, disruption of freshwater ecosystems and declining biodiversity. 

Many of the recommendations made by environmental and conservation organizations and by tens of thousands of Canadians over the past three years are reflected in the legislation. 

Key updates to the Fisheries Act include:

  • Stronger and expanded habitat protections for all fish
  • Requiring actions to rebuild depleted fish stocks
  • Creation of a public registry to track projects that impact fish and fish habitat

What’s Next for the Fisheries Act?

Bill C-68 - An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence is now in the hands of the Senate where it will be studied and voted on in the coming months. Environmental and conservation organizations are eager to see the progress made on the Fisheries Act put into practice, and hope that Bill C-68 will receive Royal Assent and become law before the end of 2018. 

In addition to the Senate process, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is expected to begin engaging stakeholders and the public on the regulations and policies that will be needed to implement a modern Fisheries Act.

See below for reactions to this important milestone by some of the many environmental and conservation organizations that have been working together on renewal of this important Canadian environmental law.

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Canada’s Fisheries Act has now been re-jigged and cast to the Senate for final review before becoming law

Bill C-68 significantly modernizes the protection of fish habitat by recognizing that water quality and quantity, including the timing of changes to water flows, are part of fish habitat. Previously, the protection of fish habitat was focused on the area of things like sand, rock, gravel, mud, reef, or aquatic vegetation used by fish for spawning and feeding grounds.

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Environmental lawyers urge Senate to advance new laws for natural resource projects and fisheries

"The Committee has made important amendments to Bill C-69, including some changes that we’ve been asking for since the bill was tabled in February. The Bill is far from perfect, but with these amendments we feel more confident that Canada’s new impact assessment regime will help ensure sustainability and avoid decisions that put politics ahead of science and environmental protection."

- Staff Lawyer Anna Johnston

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Statement on new Fisheries Act passing House of Commons

"In New Brunswick, the new Act should mean wider buffer zones along our streams and rivers and stronger pollution prevention measures to protect our freshwater species like salmon and trout. Along our ocean shores, the provisions should mean better protection for coastal wetlands and estuaries, and habitat protection for the critical lobster fishery."

- Lois Corbett, Executive Director

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World-leading conservation measures included in amended Fisheries Act, WWF-Canada says

"Decades of unsustainable fishing practices have shrunk many marine species populations, resulting in biodiversity loss and economic loss for coastal communities. In the face of such loss, it is essential for any modern fisheries legislation to go beyond protecting existing fish habitat and to ensure the recovery and rebuilding of fish populations. If implemented and supported by strong regulations that set targets and timelines for rebuilding stocks, this act will be an important step to ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish populations and fisheries in Canada."

- Sigrid Kuehnemund, Vice-President of Ocean Conservation

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Ecojustice applauds legislation to modernize the Fisheries Act

"Getting Bill C-68 though the House is an important step toward fulfilling the federal government’s promise to modernize and restore lost protections to the Fisheries Act. If passed into law, the bill will help achieve the broad, precautionary and enforceable legal protection necessary to safeguard Canada’s fisheries and the lakes, rivers, and oceans that sustain them." 

- Joshua Ginsberg, Director of Legislative Affairs

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New proposed Fisheries Act could help rebuild Canada’s fisheries and coastal communities: Oceana Canada states Bill C-68 is a big step forward, now needs strong regulations to succeed

"We applaud the transparency of decision making. However, we must ensure that the exceptions allowed in the proposed Act are rarely made and for good reason, when absolutely necessary. Strong regulations, providing guidance on the use of exceptions and outlining requirements for science-based targets and timelines for fisheries rebuilding, are essential for this proposed Act to succeed in restoring Canada’s fisheries."

- Josh Laughren, Executive Director

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“We’ll be continuing to follow the consultation process closely to ensure the guiding regulations on decision making provisions and fisheries resource allocations are done well so that the Act will benefit coastal livelihoods and the public good for long term healthy oceans and vibrant communities.”

 - Shannon Arnold, Marine Policy Coordinator

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"The Senate will review the proposed legislation in the fall. But given that environmental organizations, the fishing industry and other industry associations support the changes, we hope for unfettered passage through the Senate. Passing this legislation in 2018 will be an important milestone in shaping the future of Canada’s ocean agenda. It will set the stage for a progressive and conservation-based regulatory framework that is long overdue."

- Susanna Fuller, Senior Projects Manager

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Photo courtesy of Christopher Michel.