Salmon Leaks Part 7: DFO Habitat Management and Enforcement Panel

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Side channel habitatAfter a break in the hearings, the Cohen Commission looking into the decline in Fraser River sockeye continued with an overview session on habitat management which served as an introduction to more specific upcoming habitat sessions on gravel extraction and other issues. Several directors and managers from DFO comprised the panel for this session.

See transcripts for habitat management and enforcement panel below:


On April 4, the “no net loss” policy, one of DFO’s guiding principles, came up early in the session. DFO’s website states they “strive to balance unavoidable habitat losses with habitat replacement on a project-by-project basis so that further reductions to Canada’s fisheries resources due to habitat loss or damage may be prevented.” Commission counsel asked if Canada was “achieving no net loss of the productive capacity of fish habitat” (starts on page 13, line 37). In response, Patrice LeBlanc, Director of Habitat Policies and Practices suggested that some individual projects may be increasing in productive capacity but overall, DFO is losing more habitat than it is protecting. The Cohen Commission’s Policy and Practice report on DFO’s habitat management is an overview of some of the major issues involved in habitat protection and discusses DFO’s failure to achieve no net loss on page 20.

On April 5, Ecojustice (on behalf of Watershed Watch and others) questioned the DFO panel on the Environmental Process Modernization Plan (EPMP) initiated by DFO in 2004 and summarized on page 24 in the Policy and Practice report on habitat. The EPMP was initiated in response, in part, to demands from industry for greater certainty, clarity, and timeliness in regulatory reviews and environmental assessments, and demands from conservation groups for a stricter application of the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). Judah Harrison from Ecojustice asked the panel about an internal report on EPMP (starts on page 10, line 13) and started off by suggesting that this document clearly shows this DFO initiative isn’t effectively protecting habitat. The report includes DFO staff survey results (table 2 on page eight) on the subject of EPMP, Ecojustice referenced the report and confirmed with Rebecca Reid, a former director from DFO that staff identified habitat loss as the number one downfall of EPMP. This may seem ironic, given one of the stated objectives of EPMP is to protect habitat. Ecojustice went on to suggest that the environmental non-government organization community “is generally against EPMP.”

Later in the day on April 5, Watershed Watch counsel introduced an internal briefing note addressed to the Director of Habitat Management on the subject of public confidence in the aquaculture industry (begins on page 16, line 22).  The note highlights DFO’s concern with the sagging public confidence the public has in the salmon farming industry. It contains several interesting statements that highlight DFO’s perspective on this:

“At present, however, there is a growing crisis of public confidence around aquaculture”; and

“As lead federal department for aquaculture, DFO has explicitly committed to improving public confidence in aquaculture. To deliver on this commitment the department has undertaken several initiatives to raise public confidence in the context of aquaculture.”

These comments raise questions about how much funding and resources DFO is using to promote the salmon farming industry.  The briefing note also shows the salmon farming industry is concerned about delays related to farm site reviews and renewals. It also states, “DFO transferred all 97 renewals assessments with completed screening reports for each to TC [Transport Canada]  for review and decision on January 7, 2005. There remains no progress on finalizing these assessments or moving forward with First Nations consultations as TC plans. In the absence of any explanation from TC or proposed timelines, industry’s discomfort with these delays is growing.” This note clearly shows that DFO and the salmon farming industry work together closely.

The same day, Ecojustice also introduced an internal memo written by Jason Hwang, DFO area manager from BC’s interior (page 19, line 7) which lists a number of problems the habitat branch of DFO faces. The memo includes:

“Huge amount of development in Thompson, Okanagan, Nicola, Shuswap. We can’t keep up. Referral backlog is up to 4 months. We are not able to pursue smaller occurrences that in the past we have pursued and prosecuted”;

“Meeting the regulatory minimum is not as favourable for fish habitat as what we used to be able to do which was to get the lowest viable impact. Also, using the results based approach means that we don’t have a handle on what is actually going on, and we often hear about things after the fact, making a problematic workload as investigations are costly, time consuming , and very confrontational”

“The relationship between province and DFO is in a state of disfunction. We don’t coordinate on referrals in any consistent way, and there is no guidance or leadership from Vancouver-Victoria on this”


For more information see:

One Response to Salmon Leaks Part 7: DFO Habitat Management and Enforcement Panel

  1. Gerald Michel says:

    Keep up the good work,another fishing season is upon us

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