Letter from Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution to Minster for Fisheries and Oceans Canada re: changes to Fisheries Act
19 March 2012
The Honourable Keith Ashfield
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
200 Kent Street
Dear Minister Ashfield,
I am writing in my capacity as President of the Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution (CSEE). The 1000-strong membership of the non-partisan CSEE includes ecologists and evolutionary biologists from across Canada.
The concerns expressed here are made on behalf of the CSEE. They are informed, in part, by the responsibilities I exercised as Chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC; 2006-2010) and as Chair of the 2012 Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel Report entitled Sustaining Canada’s Marine Biodiversity: Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and Aquaculture.
The CSEE has very grave concerns regarding the Government of Canada’s proposed changes to Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act. Specifically:
1. The CSEE is concerned that the proposed changes were not informed by a full and appropriate consideration of the best available science;
2. The CSEE is concerned that the proposed changes will prevent Canada from fulfilling it national and international commitments to sustain biodiversity; and
3. The CSEE is concerned that the proposed changes will prevent Canada from fulfilling its legislated responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act.
Each of these concerns is elaborated upon briefly below.
Firstly, there is no evidence to suggest that the proposed revision to the Fisheries Act was based on an appropriate level of consultation with, and advice received
from, DFO’s Science Sector. According to the DFO website, “science is the basis for sound decision making. DFO Science Sector provides information on the consequences of management and policy options, and the likelihood of achieving policy objectives under alternative management strategies and tactics.”
DFO’s website further notes that the incorporation of science in decision making is provided through a rigorous peer review process built on the Government of Canada’s Framework for Science and Technology Advice: Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Use of Science and Technology Advice in Government Decision Making which states:
“Science advice has an important role to play by contributing to
government decisions that serve Canada’s strategic interests and
concerns in areas such as public health and safety, food safety,
environmental protection, sustainable development, innovation, and
Based on the assumption that your decision was not made in violation of departmental or government policy, the proposed revisions to Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act must have been informed by advice received by DFO’s Science Sector. In the interests of transparency and accountability, and in the interests of Canadian society, we respectfully request that the science advice received in this regard be made publicly available without delay.
Secondly, the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act will be considered an abrogation of Canada’s global ocean and freshwater stewardship responsibilities.
The CSEE notes the conclusion by the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel that “Canada has fallen well short of the progress made by most developed nations in fulfilling national and international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity” and that “many targets and obligations to conserve and to sustainably use biodiversity have not been met by Canada”.
The proposed changes to the Fisheries Act will severely impair Canada’s ability to protect species and their habitat and will, thus, further reduce the likelihood that Canada will fulfil its national and international biodiversity commitments.
Thirdly, it is well-established in the scientific literature, and articulated in Canadian government policy and statute, that the protection of species habitat constitutes the most effective means of ensuring that species do not become extinct. The Species at Risk Act (SARA), for example, acknowledges that “the habitat of species at risk is key to their conservation”.
The proposed elimination of existing habitat protection provisions in the Fisheries Act will severely impair Canada’s ability to fulfil its legislated obligations under SARA to prevent the extinction of aquatic wildlife species.
In the interests of all sectors of Canadian society, we request that you withdraw the proposed revisions and maintain the current wording of Section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act.
Jeffrey A. Hutchings
President, Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution
Professor, Department of Biology, Dalhou