One reason the federal government gave for making the changes last year was to streamline environmental reviews and make the regulatory process more efficient for development projects.
But Post and Hutchings' paper cites peer-reviewed scientific studies which found that between 2006 and 2011, only one project proposal among thousands was denied by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Only 1.6 per cent of 1,238 convictions under the previous Fisheries Act between 2007 and 2011 pertained to the destruction of fish habitat.
Also, environmental review times for projects under the previous Fisheries Act were found to be already in line with new review times mandated by the federal government last year.
There were some improvements made to the Fisheries Act, Post and Hutchings say. This included recognizing recreational and Aboriginal fisheries as being important, provision for policy on invasive species, and increased fines for contravening the legislation.
But at the same time, the federal government has closed many regional Fisheries and Oceans offices including one in Calgary and eliminated about 30 per cent of fisheries personnel who manage habitat issues, "so they no longer have the capacity to police infractions," Post says.
"Politically motivated dismantling of habitat protection provisions in the Fisheries Act erases 40 years of enlightened and responsible legislation and diminishes Canada's ability to fulfill its national and international obligations to protect, conserve, and sustainably use aquatic biodiversity," their paper says.
|Contact: Marie-Helene Thibeault|
University of Calgary