Changes to fisheries legislation have removed habitat protection for most species in Canada

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John Post doing his fieldwork

Revisions to Fisheries Act were unscientific, biologists at universities of Calgary and Dalhousie say

Federal government changes to Canada’s fisheries legislation have eviscerated the ability to protect habitat for most of the country’s fish species, scientists at the universities of Calgary and Dalhousie say in a new study.

The changes were politically motivated, unsupported by scientific advice – contrary to government policy – and are inconsistent with ecosystem-based management, fisheries biologists John Post and Jeffrey Hutchings say.

Their comprehensive assessment, in a peer-reviewed paper titled “Gutting Canada’s Fisheries Act: No fishery, no fish habitat protection,” is published in Fisheries, a journal of the 10,000-member American Fisheries Society.

“The biggest change is that habitat protection has been removed for all species other than those that have direct economic or cultural interests, through recreational, commercial and Aboriginal fisheries,” says Post, professor of biological sciences at the University of Calgary.

Habitat protection curtailed

Before, “there used to be a blanket habitat protection for all fish species,” he says. “Now there’s a protection just for species of economic importance which, from an ecological standpoint, makes no sense.”

Studies cited by Post and Hutchings show that not protecting habitat is the “single greatest factor” for the decline and loss of commercial and non-commercial species on land and in water.

Yet the changes to the Fisheries Act removed the “mandated legal protection” of habitat even for fish species that are in decline, Post says.

About three-quarters of approximately 80 freshwater fish species in Canada listed as being at risk, threatened or endangered “are not going to receive the protection that they did in the past,” Post says.

Hutchings is a former chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada while Post is a current member. Both scientists’ research is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

A streamlined process for development projects

One reason the federal government gave for making the changes last year was to streamline environmental reviews and make the regulatory process more efficient for development projects.

But Post and Hutchings’ paper cites peer-reviewed scientific studies which found that between 2006 and 2011, only one project proposal among thousands was denied by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Only 1.6 per cent of 1,238 convictions under the previous Fisheries Act between 2007 and 2011 pertained to the destruction of fish habitat.

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Meet the Microbes Eating the Gulf Oil Spill

Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhea...
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These microscopic life forms are blooming as a result of the oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from the Macondo 252 deep-sea well

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill added roughly 800 million liters of hydrocarbons to the Gulf of Mexico. One quarter of that has been burned, captured or skimmed, according to U.S. government estimates. That leaves the rest for trillions of microbes to feast on—a petroleum cornucopia that first became available April 20 when the oil platform exploded and the spill started.

If the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, Carol Browner, are to be believed, those microbes have made quick work of the spill, consuming as much as 50 percent of the remaining oil already. Actually, the bacteria, fungi and other life that consume hydrocarbons do not work that fast, taking weeks to months to years to degrade oil. And, unfortunately, the microbes’ speed is limited not by the availability of oil—or even its droplet size, which is why chemical dispersants have been used to break up the oil into microbe-friendly globules—but by the availability of various nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus that wash into the ocean via rivers carrying sediments from the continents.

Bioremediation—boosting microbial activity by ensuring a steady supply of such nutrients—is quite difficult in a case like the gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. “In the ocean how do you keep the nutrients with the oil?” says microbial ecologist Kenneth Lee, director of the Center for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who has been assisting with BP’s mess. “That’s why you don’t see bioremediation in the open ocean.”

Read more . . .

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