Managing the Impacts of Human Activities on Fish Habitat: The Governance, Practices, and Science

Canada’s Regulatory Regime for Managing Impacts to Fish and Fish Habitat

Patrice LeBlanc, C. Alwyn Rose, and Neil Fisher


Abstract.—Canada’s Fisheries Act, the country’s primary law for regulating the harvesting of its marine and freshwater fisheries resources, includes provisions to regulate the impacts of human activities on fish and fish habitat. As a result of these provisions the Fisheries Act represents the main federal statute for protecting freshwater and marine aquatic ecosystems and is considered one of the strongest environmental laws in Canada. This paper outlines the legal and policy frameworks and institutional arrangements for the administration of these provisions of the Fisheries Act. It describes the review process and practices established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) for administering the provisions of the Act assigned to the Department’s Fish Habitat Management Program (HMP). It defines the key issues and concerns raised about the delivery of the Fish Habitat Management Program and reviews initiatives undertaken to address these. It suggests that while these have improved delivery of the regulatory responsibilities of the HMP, there is a need for more fundamental changes that will enable it to keep pace with the increasing and cumulative impacts associated with population growth and economic development and create conditions under which human activities and fish and fish habitat can co-exist on a sustainable basis. This paper suggests that such a change must be founded on an ecosystem-based approach and on the application of modern scientific and management principles for regulating impacts to fish and fish habitat. It also describes steps to move forward to demonstrate and instill an ecosystem-based approach.