Mining Watchdog Rips Fisheries Department: Releases Document Showing Wilful Disregard for Fish and Fish Habitat

(Ottawa) MiningWatch Canada today released a study highly critical of the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). According to the report, Protecting Fish/Protecting Mines – What is the real job of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?, DFO – the federal agency mandated to manage and protect fish and fish habitat in inland waters – has allowed extensive destruction of fish habitat from mining development, ignoring its own mandate as well as public concern and advice from independent scientists.

The report looks at fisheries policy as well as specific case studies that illustrate the absence of a scientific basis for decision-making, the lack of monitoring or follow up, and a disregard for public participation and processes like environmental assessment that are supposed to encourage public participation.

According to researcher Susan Isaac, “What became clear in talking to people from communities with major mine developments is that DFO doesn’t consider all the habitat that is being affected by the mine in granting authorizations under Section 35(2) of the Fisheries Act, that traditional knowledge and/or independent scientific knowledge is not considered in DFO’s decision-making, and that there is insufficient monitoring once the project is underway.”

The industry is often left essentially unsupervised to look after the protection of the environment (and fish habitat). Isaac sums it up: “There’s an unavoidable perception that the needs and interest of the mine take precedence over the protection of fish habitat.”

The report looks ahead at changes proposed by the federal government under its “Smart Regulations” initiative and the potential for further loss of regulatory oversight and control. The study concludes that DFO must act on its regulatory responsibilities to protect fish and fish habitat.

Specifically, the department must: (1) stop expanding the scope of Letters of Advice as a means to avoid triggering an Environmental Assessment (EA); (2) stop allowing fish bearing waters to be used as tailings dumps; (3) ensure that decisions on mitigation and compensation measures are made through the Environmental Assessment process; (4) implement Environmental Assessments so that they review the entire project, not individual components; (5) cease depending on voluntary compliance of guidelines and “Best Management Practices” by mining companies.

The report recommends that DFO increase its capacity to monitor mitigation measures and compensation plans and develop appropriate and adequate measures to meet its regulatory responsibilities.

The report is supported by a number of key environmental organizations.

Stephen Hazell of the Sierra Club of Canada says: “The MiningWatch report makes clear that DFO has learned little since mismanaging northern cod to commercial extinction a decade ago.”

Elaine MacDonald, staff scientist with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund states: “This illuminating report makes it clear that DFO is not adequately protecting fish or fish habitat. This has to change.”

Bill Wareham of the Suzuki Foundation adds: “Here’s another articulate example where DFO has failed to fulfil its conservation mandate to protect fish. It is a call to action.”

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For more information call:
• Susan Isaac, MiningWatch Canada (613) 569-3439
• Stephen Hazell, Sierra Club of Canada (613) 241-4611
• Elaine MacDonald, Sierra Legal Defence Fund (416) 368-7533
• Bill Wareham, Suzuki Foundation (604) 732-4228

The full report, along with a one-page summary in French and English, is available at: