BY MIKE YOUDS
Special to the News
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council will seek changes to impending Fisheries Act amendments in hopes of winning better protection for wild salmon stocks.
Tribal council chiefs discussed the amendments, currently before the House of Commons, at a meeting in Tofino Friday.
The NTC welcomes amendments that restore fish habitat safeguards removed by the former Conservative government yet they have significant concerns over “a whole host” of other matters tied to the legislation, said Tseshaht councillor Hugh Braker.
“The council of the hereditary chiefs of the Nuu-chah-nulth have agreed to apply to the standing committee of Parliament to make suggestions for changes to the legislation,” Braker said.
He’s not optimistic about having their concerns addressed, though.
“I’ve been kicking around a long time and I know it’s very difficult to get changes once legislation has gone to committee,” he said. “We will certainly voice our concerns.”
Key environmental legislation, the Fisheries Act used to prohibit “harmful alteration, disruption of destruction” of fish habitat, but the Conservative government removed that wording in 2012, arguing that it represented an unnecessary regulatory burden. They also removed protections for fish species other than those harvested for Indigenous, commercial or recreational purposes.
Braker said those changes “gutted” the act and the NTC is glad to see protections restored.
“The changes to the act go a long way to repairing the damage done to the legislation by the previous government under Prime Minister Harper,” he said. “A lot has been put back for fisheries but unfortunately I don’t think it goes far enough.
“Only if the government follows through will it mean anything,” he added.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said the federal NDP is pleased with legislative changes to restore habitat protection, though they would have preferred that the Liberal government had acted with greater haste immediately after the 2015 election. On the other hand, the amendments don’t address the alarming decline of Pacific salmon stocks that are integral to life on the West Coast, he said.
“We’re not even close to what we need,” he said. “We’re not seeing the steps they promised. There’s no understanding of the urgency of the threat to our wild salmon.”
Johns said he has additional concerns about legislative changes that would enable greater participation by Indigenous peoples in fisheries-related decisions. The amendments don’t recognize a requirement for free, prior and informed consent, which he said is critical in light of the government’s recognition of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He noted that Bill C-262, proposed legislation to ensure Canada’s compliance with the UN declaration, has just been sent to committee for review after it was introduced as a private member’s bill by Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash.
The MP pointed to substantial work done on Canada’s East Coast to revive cod stocks through investments in research and monitoring. He’d like to see similar resources invested in rebuilding West Coast salmon stocks. The amendments as proposed won’t ensure that.
“That’s the other part we’re disappointed about.”
The 2012 Cohen commission on the decline of Fraser River sockeye recommended removing DFO authority over salmon farming because it conflicts with the department’s primary responsibility for protecting wild salmon stocks. That’s another change Johns would like to see.
“This is something that even salmon farmers understand, and they agree to it,” he said.
Braker said the Fisheries Act is but one component of a suite of four overlapping pieces of federal legislation that are undergoing revisions. These include the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which used to protect the right to travel on waterways. Under the Conservatives, the major tributaries of the Somass watershed were de-listed from protected waters.