Amendment to Fisheries Act could threaten farmers across the country, say CCA and CFA

By Alex BinkleyNational Newswatch

Murky definition of fish habitat is creating plenty of concern.

Ottawa—Farmers across the country could end up being charged with destroying fish habitat under a last minute amendment to a fisheries bill that a Senate committee will be studying soon, farm groups are warning.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a note it sent to MPs and Senators the amendment “would see practically all water bodies deemed fish habitat and thus make it virtually impossible for beef and agricultural producers to be in compliance with the Act.”

The last minute amendment in the Commons made in 2018 changes the definition of fish habitat in the Fisheries Act to cover all areas with the necessary water flow characteristics to sustain ecosystems of fish habitat. The bill was passed by the Commons and has received second reading in the Senate over the objection of several Senators.

The CCA and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture want the opportunity to explain their concerns to the Senate fisheries committee before the bill is passed.

CCA also wants the government to address the regulatory burden the bill will impose on farmers “by providing a streamlined process and approval or exemption criteria for small and low risk activities; and, establish clear and enforceable guidelines for artificial infrastructures or exempt artificial infrastructures.”

The bill creates uncertainty as to whether fish habitat will be deemed to include water not accessible to fish but which may eventually reach fish habitat due to heavy rain runoff, it said.

Excess rainwater on farmland may fall under this definition, and its draining may require a Fisheries Department permit thereby increasing regulatory burdens on farmers, CCA said. Overall, the amendment could interfere with many activities associated with cattle grazing and production and should be removed.

CFA wants the government to clarify the definition of fish habitat in the bill and ensure it doesn’t include rainwater pooling on cropland.

It said the amendment to the bill greatly expanded what can be deemed fish habitat and designates puddles and watercourses as fish habitat “even if there are no fish using the area for any life process. The expansion of fish habitat results in practically all water bodies being fish habitat or deemed fish habitat. Under the Act anyone would be in contravention if they alter, disrupt, or cause destruction of fish habitat.”

When asked about the farm group concerns, a Fisheries spokesperson did not respond directly to them but said the department was consulting and was “open to amendments that will provide for more clarity.”

CFA said the amendment creates uncertainty as to whether fish habitat will be deemed to include water not accessible to fish. The amendment could also impact rural municipalities.

During Senate debate on the bill, Don Plett of Manitoba said “unless there is substantive evidence this legislation does something other than hurt farmers while failing to protect fish habitat in any significant way, I will be working and voting against this bill every step of the way.”

Raynell Andreychuk of Saskatchewan said she was concerned about the bill’s intrusive nature and that its fish habitat provision has created fear and anxiety amongst farmers and resource developers. The Senate has to make sure the bill isn’t “burdensome to Canadians at this very fragile economic moment.”Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.

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