Gov. to protect fish

The federal government will spend $284 million over the next five years to enforce new laws protecting habitat wherever fish are present, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc says.

A number of amendments to the Fisheries Act were introduced in the House of Commons Tuesday morning to expand the reach of a prohibition against anything that alters or impacts fish habitat to all waters where fish exist.

Changes to the act in 2012 meant the protections were enforced only for fish listed in provincial registries as being part of commercial, recreational or Indigenous fisheries.

Officials with Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in Ottawa today the 2012 changes resulted in a lot of confusion about exactly what projects would require a federal government assessment, because it wasn't always clear which fish needed protecting and which didn't.

The government intends to produce regulations that will spell out exactly which projects will require a federal assessment and ministerial permit to proceed and which will not. The department is consulting on those regulations now.

As well, any reviews done will be captured in a public registry so the public can see the results of every review, something that is not required now.

The act also will require the minister to take into account Indigenous knowledge and expertise when it is provided and all decisions must take into account the possible impacts on Indigenous rights. However that knowledge will be protected from being revealed publicly or even to a project's proponents without explicit permission from the Indigenous community or people who provided it.

The $284 million will be allocated to help implement and enforce the new law, including hiring new fisheries officers to enforce the act and educate people about it, however officials say there are no details yet about how many will be hired and when.

The legislation also will make it illegal to capture whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canadian waters for the purpose of keeping them in captivity. Officials say existing permits for such activities will be honoured, but in the future only animals captured because they are in distress, injured or in need of care can be held in captivity in Canada.

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