Federal Fisheries Program Creating Problems for the Prairies

Press Release, Natural Resources, Robert Sopuck

The new Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) fish habitat enforcement program has serious deficiencies that threaten the growth and development of the prairie economy, concludes a policy analysis released today. Published by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and written by Robert Sopuck, the paper says that the damage will particularly impact rural communities.

"Section 35 (b) of The Fisheries Act is probably the most powerful piece of environmental legislation in Canada," warns Sopuck. "It has the potential to seriously derail both economic development and environmental management if applied in an inappropriate manner, as appears to be the case with the new FOC program." FOC has decided on a literal interpretation of the Fisheries Act and is now subjecting small developments like drainage ditches and bridge construction to federal oversight. The program's compliance costs must be borne by Manitoba's cash-strapped local governments.

Until 1999, the provinces administered this portion of the Act but the federal government took direct control of fish habitat protection after negotiations over jurisdiction failed. After taking over responsibility, FOC increased its budget to about $ 4 million per year in Manitoba, more than the Province's entire Fisheries budget.

"The new FOC program is not in keeping with current conservation initiatives on the Prairies," adds Sopuck. "These programs stress cooperation and the use of incentives to encourage conservation. The FOC enforcement approach threatens such approaches."

Instead of imposing a whole new level of federal control, Sopuck recommends that the FOC enforcement budget be spent on providing assistance and advice to existing conservation and stewardship programs. He fears that will only increase existing animosity towards the federal government as rural municipalities struggle with the additional regulatory burden.

Robert D. Sopuck is the Director of the Frontier Centre's Rural Renaissance Project. A fisheries biologist with extensive experience in fisheries management and habitat protection at both the federal and provincial level, he also directed Manitoba's sustainable development initiative for the Province of Manitoba from 1989-1996 and was Director of Environmental Programs for the Pine Falls Paper Company from 1996-1998.