Legislation increasing protection for fish and habitat clears Senate
Bill C-68 will protect smaller inshore fishery operators from corporate takeover, group says
Trudeau government legislation that enshrines the independence of Atlantic Canada's inshore fishing fleets and enhances protections for fish stocks and fish habitat has cleared the Senate.
The news is a relief to Martin Mallet.
"This is great news. We've been waiting for this for a long while," said Mallet, executive director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.
Inshore fishery associations like his lobbied hard for Bill C-68, which overhauls the Fisheries Act.
It will give the teeth of law to two key policies designed to prevent inshore fisheries — including lobster — from ending up in the hands of a few large companies.
The owner-operator and fleet separation policies keep commercial fishing licences in the hands of small enterprises and prevent companies from both fishing and processing the catch.
"This will protect smaller operators from corporate takeover," Mallet said in an interview from his office in Shediac, N.B. "It will protect our small coastal communities."
Conservatives won't delay C-68 in Commons
Bill C-68 passed the Senate Thursday with Conservative support after Liberals agreed to remove the so called "water flow" amendment from Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, added in the House of Commons.
Conservatives warned it could give Fisheries and Oceans the ability to treat industrial, agricultural and municipal water flow locations as fish habitat.
A spokesperson for Conservative fishery critic MP Todd Doherty said Conservatives will not delay C-68 when it reaches the Commons.
The party still believes the bill is flawed — it restores habitat protections removed by the Harper government — but Conservatives support owner-operator and fleet separation policies in Atlantic Canada.
Fisheries groups warned Conservatives during the lobby campaign that Conservative candidates in Atlantic Canada would pay a price at the polls in the upcoming federal election if they vote against Bill C-68.
On Thursday, just three Conservative senators voted against it in the Senate.
Environmentalists were also heartened to see the bill move to the House of Commons, where it is very likely to pass before Parliament rises.
In addition to protecting habitat, the new Fisheries Act also imposes new requirements on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to more carefully manage fisheries.
"This is one of our oldest pieces of legislation: 1868. And this is the first time we are going to see something that says sustainably manage our fish stocks and rebuild stocks that are depleted — first time," says Robert Rangeley, science director of Oceana Canada, a marine conservation group.
"So this is a really important piece of legislation."
Minister expects new Fisheries Act to pass
In North Vancouver, federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also welcomed the Senate vote.
He is on the verge of delivering a signature piece of legislation that fulfils a 2015 election commitment to restore lost protections for fish and fish habitat.
"It's a very important promise from an environmental perspective. It is one of the most important promises that we made with respect to fisheries and oceans and so from my perspective this is a very important milestone," Wilkinson said.