Fish habitat protection cuts bad for industry, says expert

Looming cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could cause confusion for industry, says one veteran consultant.

Looming cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could cause confusion for industry, says one veteran consultant.  

Ottawa is set to slash the number of habitat management programs across Canada, eliminating more than 130 positions, representatives of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) told CBC News.

With Alberta’s energy industry booming, a steady stream of projects must adhere to Canada’s myriad of laws and regulations aimed at protecting watersheds, says Kerry Brewin.

The biologist and environmental consultant has been helping entrepreneurs navigate that paperwork for 25 years. And he’s not convinced Ottawa is moving in the right direction.

"If I was in charge, that's not how I would have done it," Brewin said.

Cutting habitat management programs just as sweeping changes to the Fisheries act and Environmental Assessment Act are being introduced is poor planning, he said.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed that 130 jobs around the country will be cut, but said they have made no final decisions about office closures have been made.

In a written statment the DFO said it is transforming the way in which they deliver the Habitat Management Program across the country to increase efficiency and focus on priorities that matter to Canadians.

The Harper government’s spring budget included a contentious plan to streamline the environmental assessment process, and end federal oversight over much of the country's fresh water.

The Budget Implementation Act included changes to seven environmental statutes. Among the alterations are a complete re-write of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and a major shift in direction in the Fisheries Act.

The new Fisheries Act will no longer protect fish habitat but will instead focus on the protection of economically viable fisheries.

"There's going to be fewer offices and fewer people who are in the know about these things and it’s going to be more difficult to get the information quickly," Brewin said.  

According to Brewin, the changes will create uncertainty, leaving businesses and consultants wondering what they need to do — and who they need to talk to — in order to comply with the rules.