Changes to the Fisheries Act as a result of the federal budget omnibus Bill C-38 are trickling down to municipal governments, leaving them with uncertainty over how to manage riparian and environmentally sensitive areas.
With Bill C-38, the focus of the Fisheries Act is expected to narrow to only major waterways and specific types of fish, with a reduced focus on protection to fish habitat.
“The concern is the federal government is gutting fisheries enforcement, and that protections will only be extended to commercially significant fish,” said Charles Thirkill, a local fisheries biologist, member of the Harbour City River Stewards and former chairman of the city’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability.
Changes to the Fisheries Act will likely affect local watercourse bylaws. Those watercourse bylaws are not based on federal legislation but instead are to be in compliance with the act.
Historically, federal fisheries biologists have been required to determine if development or a change in watercourse was detrimental to fish or their habitat. With layoffs in the federal fisheries department, it is not known if these biologists will still be available to apply their expertise, possibly lowering current standards.
“I’m not sure that they’re expecting us to pick any of this up,” said Coun. Diane Brennan, chairwoman of ACES. “I’m not convinced that they’re saying ‘we don’t want to do this anymore but you should.’ I think they’re saying ‘we don’t think this is important anymore’.”
According to a report released by the city’s advisory committee, the changes prompt a need to review the level of protection that the city has in place for watercourses and whether or not changes are needed to maintain current standards.
On Monday, city council passed a resolution stating environmentally sensitive areas are an important asset to local residents and are recognized in the official community plan, that the city has already made significant investment in the protection of fresh and marine habitat within the city.
The resolution will be distributed to both federal and provincial fisheries ministers, local members of parliament and MLAs. It is also being sent to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities for consideration at the 2012 convention in September, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
With considerable development occurring in Nanaimo as a result of zoning bylaw changes, coupled with increased efforts to re-establish salmon bearing streams within city limits, such as Departure Bay Creek, a reduction in fisheries expertise could provide challenges for the city.
“Our primary concern is that when they change the Fisheries Act that it’s going to erode the standards that we have to abide by,” said Brennan. “If those standards are eroded, then our own standards need to be bumped up. These natural assets that we have are a large part of the reason people come to live here.”
Brennan added that development aside, it remains critically important to protect all fish and their habitat within the municipality.
Under current Fisheries and Oceans Canada guidelines, activity within 30 metres of streams, rivers, lakes, ocean, intermittent wetlands and permanent wetlands, or activities that may impact downstream water quality or quantity, is subject to a DFO review.