A healthy habitat is a place where fish can feed, grow and live healthily. For Canada, it is a relevant question for two reasons: firstly because they live off the selling of fisheries; and secondly, for those who perform the activity recreationally.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of the Environment are responsible for the Fisheries Act, one of the most important government environmental laws. This includes, in turn, Habitat Policy that establishes the prevention of pollution and protection of fish. Both agencies are responsible for reviewing proposed projects in the water, to ensure that the ecosystem is not damaged and it was what the Auditor General of Canada (OAG for its acronym in English) evaluated in 2009.

Before noting the observations made by the Watchdog, it should be noted that the fishing industry contributes billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. In fact, between 2006 and 2007, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans spent $70 million related to the protection of aquatic animals activities.

What the Audit Found

None of the departments can demonstrate that "fish habitats are being adequately protected as required by the Fisheries Act." In this situation it is added that "they have limited information regarding ecosystems in Canada" as the amount of fish, water quality, among other issues.

To manage the risks of the projects that develop in the aquatic environment, the government established the Environmental Modernization Plan (EPMP) by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Under this plan, the area does not require that proposals for projects that represent low risks go under review, but is confident that voluntarily comply with the conditions and measures for the protection of ecosystems. The Plan was intended to free up resources towards those projects that do have a higher risk for habitats.

Although Fisheries and Oceans had "progress" in implementing the EPMP, the audit noted that those initiatives that were reviewed, the agency "had little documentation to show if the habitat is protected by the required mitigation measures."

This situation is compounded by the Environment Department "that did not identify what they have to do to comply with the provisions of the Fisheries Act which prohibits the deposit of toxic substances -to wildlife- in suitable fishing waters." Nor do they have a "systematic approach to address the risks of the default of the Law."

Déjà Vu

It is not the first time the OAG evaluated this issue. In fact, in previous reports, it was noted, for example, that "the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had not implemented the Habitat Policy, it did not know if it was moving towards the ultimate goal of a net gain on the ecosystem of the fish."

Both Offices, responding to the report, indicated that they were "in agreement" with the observations made by the Watchdog.