"No Fishing" signs popped up across Toronto's waterfront recently. Public backlash was immediate and fierce and city councillors quickly voted to have the signs removed.
Lake Ontario is a vibrant and historic fishing location, even in Toronto's borders. There are at least 10,000 anglers within the city's borders, part of the community of 7.5-million fishing Canadians.
The timing of Toronto's "No Fishing" experiment sent chills up our spines. As the signs went up, Members of Parliament gathered in Ottawa to debate the omnibus budget bill that will dismantle protection for fish and fish habitat across the country. Sure, the government says that the new Fisheries Act will still protect fish of commercial, cultural, or recreational value. But Toronto, with one small action, demonstrated the meaninglessness of that approach to environmental protection.
One of the reasons Waterkeeper has been so concerned about the changes to the Fisheries Act is because the new legalese actually creates incentives not to protect the act of fishing. It encourages the disenfranchisement of anglers rather than encouraging the protection of fish, fish habitat, and the restoration of fisheries.
If you live in a place like Toronto where the commercial fishery has already been wiped out, there are no fish of "commercial value". The Fisheries Act won't protect your fish.
If you live in a place where traditional fishing practices have been eliminated, there are no fish of "cultural value". The Fisheries Act won't protect your fish.
If you live in a place where a city can simply erect a "No Fishing" sign to keep recreational anglers away, fish of "recreational value" can disappear overnight. The Fisheries Act won't protect your fish.
See how easy it is?
The federal Fisheries Act rollbacks are crammed into an 800-page bill that affects every Canadian in dozens of different ways. It is hard to predict exactly what it will all mean for Canadians or when the impacts will first be felt. The one thing we know for certain is that none of the changes are intended to improve protections for fish, habitat, or the people who enjoy those resources.