Thanks a lot, and thanks for the invitation to make a presentation. Some of you might wonder what farmers have to do with fish, but hopefully by the end of the presentation, you'll get a bit of grasp on it.
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture, for those of you who don't know, represents farmers right across the country. We're Canada's largest farm organization and represent about 200,000 farmers through general farm organizations and commodity organizations across the different provinces. Some of these farmers are all too familiar with the Fisheries Act in its previous form.
The experience that many farmers had with the Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials coupled with a lack of guidance or outreach on the purpose of these measures or information on how to navigate through the process.
Many farmers were then relieved when the changes that were made just a few years ago drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms as well as lifting the threat of being deemed out of compliance. That being said, I think we could find ourselves with an important opportunity to look at how protection can be enhanced in a way that works on the ground for those who earn their livelihood from productive natural resources.
Before I get into some of the proposed solutions to enhanced protection, it would be useful to explain a little further some of the challenges that farmers faced before changes were made to the act.
Most farmers interacted with the Fisheries Act and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans during the creation and maintenance phases of man-made physical works such as drainage ditches and irrigation canals. Periodically, these require maintenance to compensate for the sedimentation and vegetation growth that occurs. These features allow for the continued productivity of agricultural lands across Canada, and were never meant to be fish habitat.
Nonetheless, they fell under the Fisheries Act, and farmers found themselves forced to comply with all the rules that also applied to natural streams and rivers that provide quality fish habitat. There are also many accounts of inconsistency in enforcement, monitoring, and compliance across Canada with different empowered organizations, which led to a confusion and indiscriminate approaches to enforcement and implementation. Even at the individual level, there were different interpretations of the act based on one's familiarity with agriculture.
Throughout the life cycle of a physical work like a drainage ditch, regular maintenance requirements often triggered a long process to secure permits and authorizations. That added to the costs for farmers and uncertain timelines led to difficulties in scheduling the work.
With the arrival of phragmites, an invasive species that thrives in drainage ditches and is a significant problem in many parts of Canada, many farmers are forced to conduct maintenance activities more often. It was when these activities for maintaining drainage ditches triggered the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat provisions, also known as HADD, that significant barriers and costs to farmers appeared.
Many farmers found HADD authorizations to be long and administratively burdensome, with the threat of enforcement overwhelming. Farmers, as well as municipalities, who rely on functioning drainage, were often frustrated by the process, particularly if the ditch did not contain any fish. At the heart of the issue was that human-made waterways were treated the same way as natural streams and rivers. These weren't made with any purpose of providing fish habitat, and in numerous cases had no fish presence.
It is CFA's position that a complete revert to reinstate all provisions of the Fisheries Act as they were would be unproductive, would re-establish the same problems for farmers, and would provide little improvement in outcome for the protection and improvement of fish habitat. Human-made water bodies such as drainage ditches simply should not be treated as fish habitat.
We feel that there are more constructive and efficient approaches that will serve to provide for fish habitat protection, yet also work on the ground so that barriers, costs, and frustrations do not mount in agriculture and rural communities. The current streamlined approach is working far better for all and efforts should continue this approach.
The CFA supports proactive and collaborative approaches to promoting fish habitat conservation and creation, rather than the strict and inconsistent enforcement of regulations. Overall, any changes to the current Fisheries Act should be considered as to how they will support outcomes-based conservation rather than a process-oriented approach.
Farmers are stewards of the land, and they aspire to leave the healthiest environments for their farms to the next generation. Many find intrinsic value in supporting biodiversity and water quality on the land, and the actions that have been taken by many exemplify this fact. At the same time, farmers recognize that they are contributing to the public good and services with little to no compensation provided.
There are ecological goods and service programs that have proven highly successful in meeting local environmental priorities, whether they be biodiversity, wetlands retention, species at risk, water quality, or others.
I'd like to take this opportunity to share just a few examples from my own farm of growing stewardship actions that have improved fish habitat outcomes. Through Growing Forward 2 and species at risk funding, we were able to access incentive programs that contributed to the improvement of fish habitat. More specifically, through the provincially delivered environmental farm plan and the Species at Risk Act, we put fencing in to keep our livestock sufficiently away from water courses, which has increased water quality and fish population.
In order to provide fresh water for our cattle, we installed a solar powered off-stream watering system. This has led to the rehabilitation of the stream that runs through our pasture areas. These are just two examples from a single farm in northern Ontario that illustrate how stewardship approaches have improved fish habitat in agricultural landscapes through means other than a regulatory-based approach under the Fisheries Act.
Ecological goods and service programs offer an excellent vehicle that should be explored further to improve the quality of fish habitat on or near agricultural lands. These can be implemented at the community scale, at the watershed level, or at the province-wide level, as P.E.I. has done. Manitoba has committed to the implementation of the alternative land use services program. In P.E.I.'s case, this program has set out to address water quality issues, and it incentivizes agricultural producers to maintain healthy and biodiverse riparian areas and setbacks from streams.
Farmers have access to best management practices that provide clear guidance to change management practices that have a positive environmental impact, often in response to regional priorities.
One of the potential areas that deserves additional thought is how to better address fish habitat requirements at the landscape and watershed level. In considering the scale of agricultural production and the types of projects that would be implemented on the farm, it is not reasonable to require permits, authorizations, habitat offsets, or other fee-based arrangements for every potential HADD disruption caused by drainage ditch maintenance.
Many small projects can add up to a cumulative impact on the landscape scale, and there should be in place the right incentives and tracking to ensure fish habitat is supported through ecological goods and services, and other programs that work with agricultural producers.
In implementing the Fisheries Act, the department should more clearly look to assess the risk damage to fish habitat by particular types of projects. Currently DFO looks at low-impact and high-impact projects, but the risk of a project disrupting or damaging fish habitat should be a part of that equation.
All of this, coupled with greater distinction between natural and human-created water bodies and the recognition and support of stewardship approaches, would lead to a workable fish habitat protection strategy for farmers. Providing guidance through best management practices and working through incentive-based programs and stewardship for farmers can accomplish significant protection of fish and fish habitat in human-created water infrastructure in a collaborative manner that regulation and the threat of enforcement simply cannot.
Thank you again for the opportunity to present.
My name is Susanna Fuller. I am the senior marine conservation coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre based in Halifax. Thank you for inviting me here again to speak to you on what I believe may be one of the most important endeavours you do together as parliamentarians and for Canadians.
I say that because the Fisheries Act is an incredibly important piece of legislation to Canadians. We cherish our fish and our aquatic habitats across this country. They are an important part of who we are. You have an opportunity to not only restore lost protections, but also to modernize the Fisheries Act in time for its 150th anniversary in 2018.
I am hoping that Canadians will be able to celebrate a modern and strong Fisheries Act that sets the stage for the next several decades of managing our fisheries and protecting their habitat, that we have a plan and adequate resources, including modern and efficient systems in place to effectively implement this new act, and that our modern Fisheries Act becomes an important part of the work we have to do to reconcile with first nations and Inuit peoples.
My experience with the Fisheries Act includes being involved in the consultations in 2007 and 2008 during previous attempts to modernize the act. Suffice it to say, I know this is not a light undertaking. However, I have to say that this time, from my conversations with other conservation organizations, scientists, industry associations, fishing associations, and first nations, there is considerably more alignment on a broad suite of recommendations for restoring and modernizing the act than the last time this was attempted. Over the past several months there has been active collaboration and discussion on recommendations to this process, much of it culminating in submissions by West Coast Environmental Law.
I sat for five years on the national fish habitat coordinating committee, where DFO and environmental organizations from across the country worked together to address concerns regarding the lack of implementation of the former section 35. I will provide a report of that work as part of my written submission, as there are several very useful and practical recommendations to improve the protection of fish habitat.
Finally, I am the proud owner of several DFO-issued pencils—possibly collectors' items—embossed with the tagline “No Habitat—No Fish”.
I have followed closely the presentations of this committee thus far in your process, and I am in agreement with much of what you have heard to date. I will take this opportunity to emphasize what I believe are the most critical aspects of a restored and modernized Fisheries Act. I will focus first on lost protections, and second on modern safeguards.
I do want to say that there are some aspects of the changes that were made in 2012 that improved the act, and some aspects of the regulations in 2013 that were also improvements. However, the deep cuts to staffing and evisceration of habitat programs across this country meant that any positive outcomes were hobbled at the start because of a lack of resourcing. Even prior to the 2012 changes, DFO was not adequately protecting habitat or reporting on habitat authorizations, as shown by the evidence presented by Dr. Martin Olszynski.
I have nine recommendations.
The first is that the language around “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction” be reinstated. My primary reason for this is that the Fisheries Act has been one of the strongest environmental laws in Canada because of case law. Canadians don't go to court easily, and when we do, we like the results to be long-standing. With the changes to HADD language, we lose those legal precedents. The additions of "activities" was an improvement made in 2012, and should be kept.
In terms of my second recommendation, I fully understand the concerns regarding the number of referrals in the early 2000s—up to 12,500—and the reasons for the 2004-05 environmental process modernization plan. However, I firmly believe there are new ways of working, including making it easy for proponents to request letters of advice and having all approvals added to a publicly accessible database. This will facilitate co-operation around habitat protection, improve monitoring, and manage cumulative impacts for government to be able to make a decision around an authorization when fish habitat is already facing too many threats at the watershed, landscape, or seascape scale.
My recommendation here is to not see a restored Fisheries Act as an impossibility to implement. We have many new tools and new ways of working since the 1986 habitat policy was put in place, and part of implementing a new act would be to use these tools, including the public registry of authorizations, with spatial and temporal mapping of these authorizations.
My third recommendation is to ensure that the impacts of fishing on fish habitat are regulated under the Fisheries Act. Habitat impacts are already being managed through the sensitive benthic areas policy to protect corals and sponges, as an example. Fisheries Act habitat protection should enable this from a legislative perspective.
My fourth recommendation regards the changes made through the aquaculture activities regulations regarding pesticide use in the open-net pen aquaculture industry. These should be considered as part of lost protections. Particularly with the removal of enforcement by Environment and Climate Change Canada, there has been an increase in pesticide use that directly impacts other marine species, including the commercially important lobster.
On modern safeguards, the Fisheries Act has the potential to be a significant legislative tool to help Canada meet its commitments under the United Nations fish stocks agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the sustainable development goals, particularly goal 14, on the oceans.
Fifth, in terms of modernizing the act, we have an obligation to add the basic principles of good management, many of which Canada has championed in international agreements and management of fisheries in areas beyond national jurisdiction, and within some of our own policies. These include the precautionary principle, the ecosystem approach, transparency, co-management, and commitment to science-based decision-making. Including these in the Fisheries Act is important both for continuity with international agreements as well as to enable these principles in our own management of fisheries and their habitats. These principles will help to enable many policies within the sustainable fisheries framework, and therefore provide a legal enabling basis tor these policies.
Sixth, reduce the level of ministerial discretion. Put simply, it's impossible to follow scientific advice or plans coming out of co-management—and I can tell you, there are many instances where our fisheries have further declined because science is not adhered to—when there is such a high level of discretion. It's far too easy to advocate various positions to the minister and have a decision swing one way or the other. We need an act that can withstand the political cycle and lobbying by all stakeholders, conservation groups included.
Seventh, Canada's fisheries are incredibly important culturally, socially, and economically to coastal communities, including first nations, Inuit, and recreational fishers, to name a few. Our country was founded in part because of our abundance of fisheries resources.
I live in Nova Scotia and fisheries were our largest export this past year. Without our wild fisheries, our province and other coastal provinces would be much less self-sufficient and resilient than we are today. A modern Fisheries Act must include provisions that require rebuilding depleted fish stocks, and timelines and targets for this rebuilding. An annual report to Parliament on the progress towards these efforts should be mandated.
My colleague, Julia Baum of the University of Victoria, and I, recently authored a report reviewing the health of fish stocks in Canada and a paper reviewing measures in place to protect at-risk marine fish under the Fisheries Act. Suffice it to say that there are far too many marine fish populations that are severely depleted and designated as either threatened or endangered by COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
For socio-economic reasons, we typically do not list commercial species under the Species at Risk Act, and when they are not listed, they are to be managed under the Fisheries Act. Yet the Fisheries Act does not require stock rebuilding, so more often than not, very little happens to recover these species and they continue to decline.
Both of your other studies on northern cod and wild Atlantic salmon deal with species that are currently considered endangered yet are incredibly important to Canadians. The recent Auditor General report on sustaining Canada's fisheries found that out of 15 endangered marine fish populations, only two had rebuilding plans. Our Fisheries Act should be a tool to recover these species, and currently our legislation lags well behind that of the United States though the Magnuson-Stevens act, and the European Union through the common fisheries policy, two examples of developed fishing nations with whom we share fish populations.
My eighth recommendation concerns the fact that fisheries are a public resource, one of the very few in Canada. As such, they should be managed for the public good, with economic benefits for as many Canadians as possible, and in particular for our coastal communities and independent fishermen. This ensures that the wealth created naturally in our oceans remains in our communities.
My ninth recommendation is to ensure that the new act has a strong and well-articulated purpose. A law of this importance should not be purposeless, as it has been since 1986. This purpose should ensure that current and future policy frameworks are enabled by the act, including those on desired conservation, social, and economic outcomes.
Finally, I know the committee takes its work seriously and that timelines are very tight. There's an incredible amount of information to digest, but I hope you complete your report on this work and the recommendations for a restored and modern Fisheries Act with both courage and ambition.
[Witness speaks in Kwakwala
I want to also acknowledge that I'm on Algonquin territory, the unceded territories, and I do not take this acknowledgement lightly. It is something that's very serious and dear to us as first nations people.
My traditional name is Owadi. I'm the elected chief councillor from the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis First Nation. Many of you may know our territories as the Broughton Archipelago, or ground zero of the fish farm fight in British Columbia. I've served as the elected chief councillor for 12 years, six consecutive terms. I am finishing my second three-year term as the vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. I am also the chair of the first nation wild salmon alliance, and I have a deep background in fisheries, especially as it relates to aquaculture, fish farms, and the Cohen commission. I'm really happy that I made some very brief summary notes of the presentation that I was planning on making, so I'll just go through this and touch on some of the other aspects.
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has been in existence since 1969. We take a very strong view, perspective, and stance on aboriginal title and rights. We seek every opportunity to advance the recognition of the inherent right and authority that first nations have in Canada. We advocate at every level possible. That's why you find me sitting here at this table with all of you this afternoon.
In terms of the topic at hand, I want you to understand the background of my people. Wherever I travel, I'm always very proud to say that we are clam diggers and fish eaters, and very proud of both. When you consider that statement, clams are found below the ocean floor and the salmon are found in the watersheds of our territories, so we have environmental concerns that extend below the surface of the ocean to the very tops of the trees at the height of land in our traditional territories and everything in between. When the government takes steps to make changes that are going to affect various industries and activities found within our territories, we are going to demand that we have a great say in what is going to occur.
Of course, now, with the new Liberal government, first nations across Canada, including myself, have taken great hope in the statements of this new government wanting to redevelop a relationship with first nations people, and most importantly, to revisit any legislation, regulation, management practice, or policy that was not properly and adequately consulted with first nations to satisfy the honour of the crown. As first nations people, we live in a world of the Constitution and Supreme Court of Canada rulings, and we are forever pushing the government and reminding them as gently or as strongly as necessary of their very own laws that they choose to abrogate, disregard, or take on with the most minimal of views.
Certainly, this is very much true and what we're here to talk about today with those omnibus bills that changed no less than 70 different pieces of legislation and law within one bill. Certainly, I've read in the newspaper many times over about this being construed as a miscarriage of democracy within the Canadian government. I certainly heard that loud and clear from the opposition parties.
Here we are today looking to what included in the's letter, where he spoke very much about reinstating all of the things that were less than gloriously ripped out of the oceans act, such as the HADD permitting, making sure that there is habitat ready provide for the sustenance and abundance of wild fisheries across Canada. The omission at the minister's whim to remove tracts of water from this very protection is just unfathomable, when you think of it, from a country such as Canada that has enjoyed a great foundation built upon marine resources. The traditions of our people in British Columbia, coast-wide and well up into the very headwaters of the Fraser, the Skeena, and the Nass rivers, have provided fish for our people's sustenance.
As all of you are probably more aware than most Canadians, I've been privy to various reports on the state of first nations economy and the poverty that many of our communities live in. When this is true, and I know that it is true, then we rely our upon our traditional foods for the very survival of our people through the cold winters. It is not that we happen to enjoy barbequing a salmon or having clams in the winter; it is what we require to make it through life on a daily basis. This is heightened as you go into the most remote communities and as you learn the challenges that they face in terms of economy and of accessing foods to live.
I think about what's happened here with Bill . It went through the phased approach, where it gets royal assent in the first go-round and then we leave the second phase up to the Governor General. Theoretically, the second phase would open up a door for some measure of consultation with first nations, but the problem is that the whole ball of wax has already gotten royal assent, so it's a meaningless consultation. This is not what I see as the crown's duty to uphold its honour.
When I think of this Canadian government now unequivocally embracing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there are very significant portions of that which relate to the topic at hand today with regard to the environment, our traditions, our cultures, our values, and our traditional food sources. Canada, on one hand, is now embracing the UN declaration, and we are faced with the changes that came through the omnibus bill. All of the safeguards that were taken out of this act need to be reinstated, at minimum, right now. We need to turn our attention to the developing leading-edge science, which is becoming available through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other sources, to further inform and guide the management practices of the DFO.
In British Columbia, my focus has always been on wild salmon, and I've learned that the outward migrating salmon are probably the least understood. That component of this sacred resource is not understood. How can we adequately develop management plans when this one very significant piece has no science to validate management decisions?
Of course, when I start to think about the changes in the definitions of aboriginal fisheries and commercial fisheries, it's really offensive to me that the Supreme Court of Canada has defined aboriginal rights and access to fish, yet this bill—taking in all the many components—attempts to limit that to a fishery, rather than a right to fish. The problem that I see with that is.... I think of my dear friend Grand Chief Ed John of the Carrier Sekani people and the early Stuart sockeye run of the Fraser River. They have not touched that run in decades. The reason is that it is so depleted, they can't fathom taking fish out of there for worry about the annihilation of the run. That portion of the Fraser River, conceivably, could be forgotten under this existing Bill .
We have to really take a look at what is an aboriginal fish. We have to reinstate the HADD permitting. When I think about the portions that talk about the agreements with the province to take on pieces of this work in conjunction with DFO, I am appalled that there is no mention of the same arrangement with first nations people.
When it talks about the province being well suited to engage on the management of fisheries, there is nobody in this country who is better suited to participate in the active management of fisheries—certainly in British Columbia and, I would say, across Canada—than first nations people. We are born into this. It is part of our genetic makeup. We understand our lands. We know what's going wrong. What we have is a government that has turned a deaf ear to the things that we express and to what we see as a meaningful path forward to safeguard the resources that we rely upon. The government must pursue a co-management agreement with first nations.
In my experience as elected chief of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis, I've learned about the HADD permitting in relationship to fish farms. What I found was appalling. There's this one company—I won't name the name—that was able to develop a marine bank, an area where they restored so many hundred thousand cubic metres of underwater environment. That was their bank, so they could destroy that same amount in our first nations territory. It made no sense. It would be like tearing down the arena here in Kenora and rebuilding a new one in Toronto as some sort of way to compensate. It does not make sense.
When I say that I want to see the reinstatement of the HADD permits, I want to know—and I want to advance to each of you—that when mitigation measures are going to be developed and there is going to be a permit, then they will be developed with the first nations who hold the title for the lands where the destruction is going to occur. Anything less is not going to be very successful to first nations.
We must really understand that this bill contemplates looking after fisheries rather than fish. If we're not going to take our greatest minds and learned execution of understanding into the protection of habitat, we are not going to have fish. If we don't have healthy and abundant ecosystems that will lay the groundwork for the fish to be able to produce and survive, then we will have nothing.
I want to impress upon you the catastrophe that I know has happened with the cod stocks in Newfoundland and on the east coast of Canada. We must embrace the principles of the Cohen commission in British Columbia. We must understand that there are a lot of holes in the science that guides management of fisheries in British Columbia, and we must expand on things such as the genome work that Dr. Kristi Miller is doing with DFO.
We must expand on the closed containment initiative of Kuterra, of the 'Namgis First Nation on the north end of Vancouver Island, and we must take the fish farms out of the ocean and put them on the land. If you think about it, we will then be able to provide a greater opportunity for economic development to a broader range of first nations that don't necessarily have to be coastal. It will meet many of the goals that the government has stated to close the socio-economic gap that first nations are faced with.
As we go down the road, it must be done hand in glove with first nations people. We must take a look at all the various sections from section 35, 37, and 38, and understand that we must revisit these with first nations, and I say re-engage, not consult and accommodate. We must re-engage with first nations, consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, so we will accomplish what the Supreme Court of Canada has given direction to Canada to do, to uphold the crown's honour and to move toward true reconciliation of presumed crown title, with the underlying aboriginal title of first nations people in Canada.
I want to ensure that we move forward collectively with first nations and that we reinstate HADD, at a minimum, and build on that with current and emerging science, such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation and their Salish Sea marine survival project. These are wonderful examples of new tools that are consistent with the Liberal government's commitment to do so.
Thank you, Scott.
I think there are two things. The one thing I mentioned was conservation and stewardship initiatives to incent farmers to do the right thing. Sometimes this isn't necessarily on the drainage ditches; it's on water courses that are through their farms.
On the drainage ditch maintenance thing, you have to recognize these were man-made facilities to start with. Before they were even put there, there was no fish habitat. They were just trying to get rid of that extra water.
There has to be an understanding that as part of that cycle, they do have to be cleaned out. If you look at it from a pragmatic point of view, you see that you may be destroying one habitat here, but what you're actually doing is creating new habitat for several years down the road. It's almost like a rotation.
I would suggest this goes back to the regional plan. If you look at the regional plans for drain maintenance, you see that drain maintenance should be staggered so you're not all in one place at one time.
The other thing you look at is where that drain interacts with the natural water course. That's likely the area of most risk. With that, when taking a look at developing best management practices for dealing with that drain on the maintenance, it would make more sense to take a look at a number of drains, and say these are the types of things that need to be done rather than have to go through a complex set of approvals and engineering designs for every individual drain, because all that does is adds costs to the system. It really doesn't address the risk.
If you look at the risk where they interact, understand there's going to have to be some maintenance damage done while you're doing those drains, but see if you can get a unified approach to do it that isn't based on every drain having to have an individual design, with all the inherent engineering. It would cut the cost and it would still meet the concerns of dealing with any risk to fish habitat.
My top three would be the reinstatement of the HADD permits. That's very critical for the proper functioning of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, bringing it back to its initial focus of not just managing fisheries that perhaps have a commercial aspect but actually looking out for the environment and all the waterways of British Columbia and Canada. I know Canadians would expect the government to do such a thing.
My second recommendation would be that the aquaculture industry of British Columbia, the fish farms, be moved into a Canadian environmental assessment stream. A mining operation might have a camp, a place to work on their machinery, a place where they dig, a place where they prepare, and a place where they ship. One company does all of this, and it triggers off the need for an environmental assessment. Well, a company operating in our first nations territory has a grow-out place, a smolt location, and a middle-growth area. You have these four or five different farms in one small region that are actually one piece of a greater company's efforts, yet they escape the environmental assessment.
When we start to turn our attention to that, we really need to come to an understanding not only of the cumulative impacts to the benthic environment of the ocean but of the cumulative impacts on migratory salmon. I say that as a result of what the Cohen commission spoke about and the lack of science, and so forth.
The last recommendation would be to move the fish farms onto land. We need to get on with closed containment. I've met with a number of times, and previous to that, with , and I asked, “Why is Canada afraid to be a world leader? Where is the ingenuity that built this country, and why are we not putting our best and brightest minds to take the lead globally on this?” I really and truly believe we have the ability, and we have the examples around Canada that can lead us down that road, so that we can really set the stage for this evolution of an industry.
Every other industry has evolved in Canada and the world. Logging has changed. Mining has changed. Oil and gas has changed. It's time for the open net-cage fish farms to change, so that we can remove that level of uncertainty and impacts with which people have issues. I am clearly understanding the impacts that have happened in our territories, and it's time that we really safeguard our wild salmon.
First, I want to respond to the comments that you just put on the table here. On the MOU that you described with the first nations leadership council, I was signatory to that as well, and it was meaningless. I don't mean to be offensive; I mean to be honest. It accomplished nothing, so let's be really clear about that.
In terms of the money that the previous government put forward on, let's say, aquaculture regulation development and management practice development, they didn't incorporate a single word that came out of those consultations with first nations. It was meaningless. Regardless of how much money the government can say it put out there for first nations, the very fact that there was zero accommodation as an output makes it a senseless waste of taxpayers' dollars.
I was at the lead table with the Fisheries Council on the regulation development and the management practice, so I know what I'm talking about there. In terms of any measure of accommodation, there was nothing.
In terms of how this is going to affect, or how it has affected first nations, certainly if we're going to be changing the definition of what we're going to protect, we need to look at what's happening today, but we, as first nations, and yourselves, as government, are also charged with looking out for many generations yet to come and that was found in the Tsilhqot’in decision. When we think about this now, when I turn my attention to the changes that have been made and defining an aboriginal right to fish as a fishery, and that only an impact to the fishery is going to trigger the protection of the environment, that is off base. It's inconsistent with the Supreme Court of Canada laws, what comes out of the Ahousaht nation case, what comes out of the Sparrow decision, and so forth.
What we're finding with the government is that, even though the Supreme Court has given very clear direction on first nations aboriginal rights on this particular topic, you're finding an end-around to try to define, limit, and find a way so we don't have to protect the very areas that are going to sustain the fish for the fishery. If we're going to just focus on a fishery rather than the protection of habitat, it's a very sad day in Canadian history.
If we want to envision co-management by first nations on a fishery in British Columbia, we have to first accept that there are incremental and cumulative impacts to the fish. That's not something we saw embraced by the previous government. I'm hoping it's one of the things we're advancing with the existing government.
Consider for a moment that there is no knowledge about where Chief Joe Alphonse's sockeye goes when it leaves the Fraser River. It just leaves the river. We have the Pacific Salmon Foundation doing some great work through the Salish Sea marine survival project, where they have tagged, tracked, and mapped outward-migrating wild salmon smolts. Now we have a sense of where they're going. If we could expand that coast-wide, we would develop a fundamental and important management piece for wild salmon in the most critical portion of its life cycle. I've advanced this with .
If we could expand Dr. Kristi Miller's lab in DFO to do real-time genetic analysis, we could then do sampling of these smolts as they go out on their migration route and get real-time impact identification through her work.
Whether it's a fish farm, a mining operation, a logging operation, or a garbage dump that's seeping into the river, we can then identify what needs to be changed in terms of the early management of these fish, so that when they get out in more numbers to the ocean, there's a greater opportunity for them to return.
We're making use of leading-edge science. Who better situated to do that than first nations people who live in these isolated territories, have the knowledge of the lands and the rivers, and have the access to accomplish this? We could fulfill the goals that this government has now put in front of us in terms of science-based decision-making.
Mr. Simms, I can see you're getting antsy.
I want to keep on that theme for a second and make a comment and then ask a question in my three minutes.
I come from a riding in the lower Fraser River, where much damage to the fishery has already happened—over decades, in fact—and it has happened because of permits for housing, commercial buildings, roads, bridges, etc. In the Fraser estuary, that very productive and critical area for fisheries habitat, some scientists say about 70% or more of the area has been lost because of cities, resource extraction, farming, etc.
It's important to look at this when we're talking about jurisdictions. I think cows and fish was mentioned, a provincial program, so that it's a provincial jurisdiction. We're talking about some issues that are in municipal jurisdictions, and then, obviously overlaying these, is the Fisheries Act, which is federal jurisdiction.
We're talking about things such as farmers' ditches or drainage ditches for housing that are being considered habitat now because of the past, when so much valuable fish habitat was degraded and is gone. It's paved over; it no longer exists. I think that's part of the issue that DFO officers and the department have to contend with.
I want to switch gears for a second, though, back to one of Dr. Fuller's recommendations on stock rebuilding plans. Could you elaborate, in the few seconds left, on what legalizing stock rebuilding plans would look like for you under the Fisheries Act? You mentioned the Magnuson-Stevens act, for instance.
Thank you. I was very interested in what our colleague, Mr. Donnelly, said when he described the destruction of habitat over some 25 years in the Fraser Valley. The point is that was all done under the old Fisheries Act. It was clear the old Fisheries Act didn't solve all the problems.
I should also make the point that the Salish Sea project was funded by our government. I worked closely with Dr. Brian Riddell and Mike Meneer of the Pacific Salmon Foundation to get that project through. I'm pleased that the current government seems to be continuing with it because it's a very good project.
Ms. Fuller, you made the point that you'd like to see the level of ministerial discretion reduced. Also, you're very much in tune with your colleague from the World Wildlife Fund, Elizabeth Hendriks, who, in her brief, talked about “removing the absolute discretionary power of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in fisheries management decision-making”.
As an elected official, I'm shocked by both of those statements from your group and WWF. Whatever happened to the citizen's right to redress, the citizen's right to appeal a decision that a government makes? The final decision is not made by an elected official nor does it rest on the desk of an elected official. Where is democracy in this? This seems to be a common thread in the environmental activist community, to reduce ministerial discretion, which ultimately will reduce the ability of local key people, commercial fishermen, anglers, to seek redress from a government that makes a decision they may not like.
Obviously governments make decisions that people do not like, but at least citizens have the right of redress. Why do the environmental groups, by and large, want to reduce the role of elected officials in environmental decision-making?