Fish habitat protection

Renewed protection of fish habitat under the 2019 Fisheries Act requires a complementary renewal of the Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program to restore past harm to fish habitat and prevent and meaningfully compensate for future harm.

The Green Budget Coalition recommends that Canada invest in fish habitat protection, restoration, and integrated planning to support fisheries productivity, help restore declining fish populations, begin reversing the legacy of harm to fish habitat from past development, and generate community economic benefits. Canada should expand existing funding programs and speed up project implementation. Aquatic ecosystem and fish habitat restoration projects can create 13-17 jobs per million dollars invested and, based on evidence from the U.S. Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, create a return on investment of 300%.

To restore abundance and support the resilience of Canada’s fisheries, the Green Budget Coalition recommends investing in the following components:

Total Recommended Investment:

$324 million over five years, then $2 million per year, ongoing

  1. Status of Fish Habitat. Implementation of the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act requires the ability to assess change over time and review authorizations for HADD137 relative to habitat status and cumulative effects. Funding is required for DFO to develop and implement a fish habitat status assessment and reporting program in partnership with provinces, territories and Indigenous governments.

    $15 million over three years to complete the first status assessment, then $2 million per year, ongoing to maintain the status assessment as a tool to guide DFO fish habitat regulatory decisions and restoration plans. [DFO]
  1. Integrated Approach to Fish Habitat. The renewed Protection Program must address land use in the surrounding watershed or coastal zone, habitat forming processes, and physical in-water habitat if it is to effectively conserve and protect fish and fish habitat. Jurisdiction over these three dimensions of protecting fish habitat is shared and their relative importance differs between species and areas of the country. As a result, the protection of fish habitat requires a strategic, integrated approach that supports a shared responsibility model for the conservation of fish and fish habitat. A pan-Canadian approach is needed that sets out the framework for developing shared protection and restoration objectives to guide regulatory decisions and to establish and support program delivery partnerships with other governments, including Indigenous governments, as well as non-governmental organizations.

    $30 million over three years to work with provinces, territories, and Indigenous governments to develop a strategy and framework for an integrated, pan-Canadian approach to the protection of fish habitat. [DFO]
  2. Expand the Aquatic Ecosystems Restoration Fund. To advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and support provincial and territorial efforts to sustain abundant fish populations the Green Budget Coalition recommends that the government expand the Aquatic Ecosystems Restoration Fund (AERF) to create an inland component of the Fund that is coordinated with the Freshwater Action Plan to restore fish habitat for focal species in the same priority watersheds. The funding program should take a collaborative and capacity building approach using existing arms length organizations such as the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation, Pacific Salmon Foundation, Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and Aquatic Habitat Canada to help administer and deliver the program. The expanded AERF should include funding to:
    1. Build and sustain partnerships to restore degraded or destroyed fish habitat in priority watersheds and for priority species;
    2. Support the development and implementation of regional habitat restoration plans;
    3. Increase the capacity of Indigenous and non- government organisations to deliver high quality fish habitat restoration projects;
    4. Restore and improve fish habitat through cost shared projects identified by the regional restoration plans; and
    5. Establish a fish passage program that re- establishes habitat connectivity for focal species in the priority watersheds.

      $250 million over five years [DFO]
  3. Ecologically Significant Areas. The designation of ecologically significant areas (ESA) provides a powerful new conservation tool to protect areas of sensitive, highly productive, rare or unique fish habitat. The framework for the identification, establishment and management of these areas in marine and freshwater environments needs to be developed and work to designate ESAs across Canada needs to begin.

    $25 million over five years for the development of an ESA framework and designation of 5 to 10 ESAs in each DFO region. [DFO]