Federal fisheries officials stalling on talks to protect water

Federal fisheries officials stalling on talks to protect water by Mike de Souza, December 9, 2012, Postmedia
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has no formal plans to consult with stakeholders on new regulations or partnerships to prevent industrial pollution in the wake of a major changes to environmental protection laws adopted last summer, says newly-released internal correspondence obtained by Postmedia News. Despite pledging to develop new regulations and partnerships to protect Canadian waterways when it implemented the changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act and other legislation, the department is unable to provide any timelines or details of its progress, nearly six months later. A department spokeswoman, Melanie Carkner, told Postmedia News it was continuing discussions with a “variety of stakeholders,” and that new regulations “should be published at the same time as the final amendments to the Fisheries Act come into effect. “The latest changes to the legislation are expected to be adopted by the Senate this month, following changes from July that removed federal protection of fish habitat, shifting the focus toward protecting commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries. Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, who is temporarily on medical leave, touted the new legislation last spring, noting that it gives the Harper government new tools to authorize industrial water pollution. The government also indicated that it could subsequently use standards developed by industry associations to guide its efforts, provided that they meet “strict requirements” for fisheries protection. …

Other internal emails, obtained by Postmedia News through access to information legislation, reveal that department officials were uneasy about a reporter asking questions and “really latching on to this partnerships thing.” “Is there anything else we can say about it at this time, or can we simply tell him that the ‘how’ will be developed through policy and regulations over the coming months?” wrote Alain Belle-Isle, a manager of public affairs and strategic communications in a June 28 email to other department officials.  “I think we need to be clear with him about what this means. He’ll keep coming until he gets an explicit answer.” … The changes also provoked confusion between Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans officials in the summer as each asked the other to explain Ashfield’s comments in a letter that touted the need for new tools to authorize water pollution. [Emphasis added]

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