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Department of Fisheries and Oceans members speak publicly on proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act

Patricia Williams of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responds to a question Thursday night at Grenfell Campus.
Patricia Williams of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responds to a question Thursday night at Grenfell Campus. - Sam Westcott photo

Three members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) were on hand inside the Forestry Building at Grenfell Campus on Thursday evening to discuss Bill-C68, which, if implemented, will make amendments to the Fisheries Act.

Department members Aline St-Laurent-Guerin, Patricia Williams and Paul Shea presented the basic outline of Bill C-68. They stated that the intention is for the bill to address the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc, and the Canadian Coast Guard’s mandate to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards. 

The initial draft of Bill C-68 grew out of consultation with various groups, including various indigenous groups, provinces and territories, stakeholders, and the public. During the presentation, Williams spoke on the emergence of certain concerns during these public consultations, and how one of them – an emergency response procedure – made it into the bill. 

“If we have an emergency situation in which it is necessary for the minister to act, to particularly focus on the proper management and control of the fishery, or to specifically conserve a species that might have some challenges, we need the department to have the ability to manage something very quickly,” said Williams.

Williams alluded to the situation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this past summer in which 18 whales were found dead throughout various parts of the Gulf, as the kind of emergency response the minister would be allowed to enact upon if the bill is passed.

 “If there was an emergency and the department needed to step in and say ‘OK, we’re going to close that area for commercial fishing, we’re going to close it to that gear type,’ this kind of tool will allow that kind of work to be done,” said Williams.

A theme throughout the presentation was public briefings.

“We’re here now giving a technical briefing on what this parliamentary process is proposing,” said Williams.

She said at a future point, the department will go out and consult on a number of things, like what would Canadians like to see in the wording of these regulations.

The exception to this process is the new emergency response itself. On a technical note, Williams explained that the new, emergency capability Bill C-68 would grant the minister would come into play as soon as the bill is given Royal Assent, if that happens. This means that the DFO will not have to wait for regulations to be developed in order to have access to the emergency response.

Switching subject areas slightly, St-Laurent-Guerin said that amendments enabling marine bio-diversity protection support Canada’s long-term objectives with regards to both protecting and conserving marine bio-diversity over the long-term.

“The Government of Canada is committed to protecting five per cent of its marine areas by 2017, which we’ve achieved and exceeded, and 10 per cent by 2020,” said St-Laurent-Guerin.

She said by the end of 2020, the intent is to replace current variation orders for all existing marine refuges with regulations, and to establish regulations for new marine refuges that have not yet been announced but that will count towards the 2020 marine conservation targets.

However, echoing Williams before her, St-Laurent-Guerin said that partners and stakeholders would be consulted on the new regulations before they are established.

“Public consultations are an important component of the regulatory review process,” she said.

During a question period following the presentation, the conversation turned to local interest, both in terms of environmental research at Grenfell in relation to the proposed bill, and a new idea of habitat banking as a possibility for Corner Brook.

St-Laurent-Gieron declined further comment.

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