Nova Scotia

World Oceans Day bittersweet for DFO

Federal fisheries workers hosted educational marine-themed displays for hundreds of school children for World Oceans Day events on the Halifax waterfront Friday while others worried about the future of the department.

Federal fisheries workers hosted educational marine-themed displays for hundreds of school children for World Oceans Day events on the Halifax waterfront Friday while others worried about the future of the department.

Oceans Day is meant to celebrate and teach awareness about the importance of ocean conservation.

This year, Oceans Day takes place as the federal government rewrites environmental law including overhauling the Fisheries Act and making major cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Walter Regan, president of the Sackville Rivers Association, was one of about a dozen non-governmental organizations on hand Friday.

Regan told CBC News those cuts are detrimental to ocean protection.

"Stephen Harper is cutting the legs and arms off DFO and Environment Canada, the first line of defence in protecting the oceans," Regan said.

A 425-page budget bill making its way through parliament strips the departments of responsibilities as the Conservative government promotes development.

In addition to 400 layoffs expected at DFO, the department is eliminating two research centres of expertise and cutting back a third, the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

Its executive director is internationally recognized scientist Ken Lee. Lee has also gotten a "workforce adjustment" letter.

Andrew Sherin, director of the Atlantic Coastal Zone Steering Committee based at Dalhousie University, said DFO has faced cuts before. 

"These are short-sighted decisions. One could put a positive spin on it. We've gone through these things before and we have survived and continued to do good work," Sherin said.

"It's just going to be much more difficult to continue at the level we have done."

Prior to retirement, Sherin spent 35 years as a federal oceans scientist.

He said the full extent of the cuts has yet to emerge.

"If the parliamentary budget officer can't find out what is happening, how would the public find out what the impacts are going to be?" Sherin told CBC News.

Stacey McCarthy of the World Wildlife Fund places her hopes for ocean protection in the school children that flocked to the displays, which included a collection of unusual creatures and corals DFO scientists found off Canada's East Coast.

"For us, today is important to celebrate our oceans to make sure they are there for children," McCarthy told CBC News.

Despite the cuts, the federal government has said it remains committed marine science, research and monitoring.