Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Scientists cry foul over plan to change Fisheries Act

University of Alberta freshwater 
researcher David Schindler founded 
the Experimental Lake Area, 
which the government is 
preparing to shutter. 

Scientists cry foul over plan to change Fisheries Act

Peter O'Neil and Larry Pynn,
Calgary Herald; Postmedia News
Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The federal government is sabotaging its own legislated requirement to protect endangered freshwater fish by weakening the Fisheries Act, Canadian scientists say in a letter to be sent to the Harper government today.

The revisions would mean the majority of freshwater fish and up to 80 per cent of the 71 freshwater species at risk of extinction would lose protection, according to the letter from the 1,000-strong Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE) provided exclusively to the Vancouver Sun.

The letter is signed by Dalhousie University professor Jeffrey Hutchings, a current member and former chairman from 2006-2010 of the federal government's main independent advisory body on species at risk, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

The ecology society also is denouncing the closing of a world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ont., a decision described in the latest issue of the British magazine Nature as the equivalent of the U.S. shuttering the Los Alamos nuclear physics site.

Society member Nick Dulvy, a Simon Fraser University professor who worked formerly as a fisheries scientist in the British government, said the two moves add to his growing alarm about the Harper government's "misuse" of science. "In my time working in the U.K. government I never saw any sign that any of the behaviour, practice or actions of the Canadian government would be even remotely tolerated," Dulvy, recruited by SFU to become Canada research chair in marine biodiversity and conservation, said in an e-mail.

The letter, to be sent today to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, slams the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act in Bill C-38, the omnibus bud-get implementation bill now being studied by two House of Commons committees.

The legislation would eliminate one of the most powerful environ-mental components of federal law - the ban on any activity that results in "harmful" alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

It is being replaced by a prohibition against activity that results in "serious" harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or any fish that supports one of those three fisheries.

"Serious harm" is defined as the "death of fish" or any "permanent" alteration to, or "destruction" of, fish habitat. "This revision will remove habitat protection for most of Canada's freshwater fish," Hutchings wrote on behalf of the 1,000 scientists.

University of Alberta freshwater researcher David Schindler, who founded the Experimental Lakes Area in the late 1960s and ran it until 1989, said research at the site has led to the removal of phosphorus from detergents and sewage.

"The financial implications of this alone are worth billions of dollars."

Work at the site was critical also in the development of tough acid rain rules, and has "continued to produce results of similar importance in underpinning on endocrine disrupting chemicals, climate change, reservoir design to minimize greenhouse gas output and mercury control," Schindler said.


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