On Wednesday, the House of Commons passed a newly updated Fisheries Act that now aims to protect fish populations and safeguard fish habitat.

Bill C-68, introduced in February, is now headed to the Senate. The proposed legislation directs the minister of fisheries and oceans to manage fish stocks sustainably, restoring the protections that were lost with changes that were made in 2012.

These protections include a requirement to consider impacts on Indigenous rights and people, the ability to quickly put in place short-term measures to respond to threats to fish that may suddenly arise, and ecosystem-based management, and additional funding for enforcement.

A new public registry with information about licenses and project decisions that address the issue of transparency was also included in the Act.

Sigrid Kuehnemund, vice-president of ocean conservation for WWF-Canada, said, “Decades of unsustainable fishing practices have shrunk many marine species populations, resulting in biodiversity loss and economic loss for coastal communities. In the face of such loss, it is essential for any modern fisheries legislation to go beyond protecting existing fish habitat and to ensure the recovery and rebuilding of fish populations. If implemented and supported by strong regulations that set targets and timelines for rebuilding stocks, this act will be an important step to ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish populations and fisheries in Canada.”

Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of freshwater conservation for WWF-Canada noted that the modernized Act also protects the flow of water, which is key to healthy river systems and aquatic species.

“A naturally flowing river is a key feature of a healthy river, and it is a huge win for nature that this is recognized in the new proposed Fisheries Act,” saidHendriks. “When we disrupt flow by blocking it with a dam or changing runoff with nearby forestry practices, we risk disrupting the entire ecosystem, driving wildlife declines, and community impacts.”

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