Department Of Fisheries And Oceans Secretly Reducing Protection Of Fish Habitat

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: May 11, 2005

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) has learned that Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been secretly developing plans to reduce protection of the aquatic environment. Documents were sent anonymously to Martha Kostuch, Vice-President of the Friends of the Oldman River.

"The Modernizing Compliance Initiative came as the result of an expenditure review exercise that was carried out in complete secrecy from staff, unions and the Canadian Public," notes Kostuch. "The department is still trying to quietly undertake this initiative, reducing both the level of service to Canadians and the level of protection of the aquatic environment. This becomes clearer when comparing the information available to staff on DFO's Intranet website to the information provided to the public on DFO's public website."

Under the secretly-developed Modernizing Compliance Initiative, DFO is planning to cut 80 fishery officer positions and 42 habitat management positions. DFO plans to help offset the reductions of staff by the creation of 40 new habitat stewardship and monitoring officers' positions. The Fisheries Act has no provision for such positions and provides no authority for them to conduct inspections, to respond to complaints or to enforce the Fisheries Act.

Fish habitat protection funding will be cut by $2.3 million in 2005 if the Federal budget is passed with further cuts to a total of $7 million a year by 2007.

"It is no wonder that this is being done in secrecy-it is an affront to decades of hard work by Canadians who care about their waterways and good public process," says Cliff Wallis, AWA Past-President and President of Friends of the Oldman River, who is upset by the latest news. "We need to strengthen, not weaken, our enforcement capacity and funding for conserving fish habitat. This is the most important tool for protecting and improving the quality of our aquatic environment."

The Standing Senate Committee on Fish Habitat has prepared an Interim Report which states: "It would be a serious mistake if the Department's fish habitat program were to be adversely affected by an internal reallocation. Moreover, the Committee strongly believes that the DFO needs additional funding."

The 2002 Annual Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development which oversees the Auditor General's environmental petitions process noted that:

  • protecting fish and fish habitat had been the most dominant concern of petitioners during the first five and a half of the petitions process-nearly half of environmental petitions touched on fish and fish habitat or related issues; and
  • in 2002, the DFO continued to be one of the most petitioned federal departments.

For more information contact:
Martha Kostuch: 403.845.4667 or
Cliff Wallis: 403.271.1408