4 things to watch for in Canada's new Fisheries Act

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc is in Vancouver today to announce updates to Canada's Fisheries Act.

Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Vancouver today to announce updated law

Lobster boats head from West Dover on Nov. 29, 2016, for the opening of the fishing season on Nova Scotia's South Shore. On Tuesday, the federal government will unveil changes to Canada's Fisheries Act. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The federal government is unveiling long-awaited changes to Canada's Fisheries Act.

For federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, this is a rhetoric-meets-reality test on several hot-button issues.

Here's what to watch for:

1. Independence of inshore fisheries

Fishermen and corporations are watching to see if LeBlanc fulfils promises to strengthen protections to preserve the independence of inshore fisheries.

LeBlanc has talked about enshrining two of those protections — the owner-operator and fleet-separation policies — in law or in regulation.

Dominic LeBlanc, minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, will be in Vancouver for the announcement. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The owner-operator policy means individual fishermen are required to fish their licences personally and reap the rewards. The fleet-separation policy ensures corporations cannot both be harvester and processor.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been battling controlling agreements, which it says are an effort by companies and fishermen to get around those policies. Companies say the arrangements guarantee the supply they need to justify multimillion-dollar investments in facilities.

LeBlanc has not been sympathetic to that argument.

2. Will social and economic criteria be included?

The first Fisheries Act was originally passed in 1868, so it never contemplated considerations that are now routinely used to manage fisheries in Canada — such as the social and economic consequences of decisions made by DFO ministers.

These factors have been used to prevent the corporate takeover of inshore fleets where ensuing, widespread job losses are deemed an unacceptable social impact in Atlantic Canada.

One issue to watch as LeBlanc makes his announcement is whether the department wants the social and economic consequences of decisions made by DFO ministers enshrined in the act. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In court cases, companies challenging DFO point out social and economic impacts are not part of Parliament's mandate to manage fisheries. Courts have sided with DFO.

One issue to watch as LeBlanc makes his announcement is whether the department wants social and economic impacts enshrined in the act.

3. Restoring environmental protections

Environmentalists want the Liberals to fulfil a campaign promise to restore habitat protections removed by the previous government.

In 2012, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper removed a prohibition on "harmful alteration, disruption or destruction" of fish habitat in an omnibus bill, saying the prohibition was burdensome red tape.

Environmentalists want the federal Liberals to fulfil a campaign promise to restore habitat protections removed by the previous government. (Shutterstock)

"Our expectations are that the habitat provisions will be reinstated," said Susanna Fuller of Halifax's Ecology Action Centre.

Environmentalists also want to see a commitment to "science-based decision making," and an "ecosystem" and "precautionary" approach to fisheries management — either as a principle in the act or as items the minister must consider when making decisions.

4. Indigenous integration

The Fisheries Act could also be used to further the Liberal government's broader goal of reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Canada's failure to fully integrate First Nations into the fishery has long been a source of frustration for Indigenous leaders.

Twenty years after a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Indigenous people are entitled to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery, Canada has yet to spell out how that will work.

Last November, LeBlanc appointed former DFO manager Jim Jones to lead negotiations with First Nations to implement fisheries rights won in court.

A commitment recognizing Indigenous rights in the fishery could be included in an amended act.

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