Nova Scotia

Dalhousie professor pans DFO cuts

The federal government's decision to lay off dozens of people who look after fisheries habitat in the province will have a profound effect on the environment, says a Dalhousie professor.

The federal government's decision to lay off dozens of people who look after fisheries habitat in the province will have a profound effect on the environment, says a Dalhousie professor.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will lay off 56 biologists and other workers involved in environmental assessments. The Harper government has also changed the Fisheries Act so that there will be fewer environmental assessments performed.

The people who were laid off this week evaluate the effects of things like culverts and pipes on fish habitat, and try to work with developers to mitigate those effects. Biology professor Jeff Hutchings said it's not likely government will provide that sort of protection without those workers.

"I don't see how that is possible, whatsoever," he said.

The government set the tone for the changes with its omnibus budget bill this spring, said Hutchings. That move changed the Fisheries Act, so that it no longer protects all fish and their habitats, but instead protects only fish that are part of a fishery.

"The new changes to the legislation make it almost not needed to have these habitat protection officers, because the legislation is weakening the habitat protections," he said.

Hutchings said Fisheries Minister telegraphed the philosophy behind the changes when he wrote a June 14 letter to Todd Panas, president of the Union of Environment Workers, that there were "few tools to authorize pollution," and, "the amended Fisheries Act will provide flexibility and establish new tools to authorize deposits of deleterious substances."

Next week is the 20th anniversary of the moratorium on cod fishing in Newfoundland. That provides a cautionary tale for the government's current approach to protecting fish, said Hutchings.

"The greatest loss of a vertebrate in Canadian history -- 30,000 people out of work," he said. "Why did it happen? Putting economic development above all else, and frankly a consequence of devaluing science."