Photo by maplemusketeer | flickr.com

Written by Starfish readers and McMaster University students Beth Nagai, Chris Dockx, Shreya Patel and Anna Sandhu. If you have a story that you'd like to write and post on The Starfish, please e-mail us at thestarfish2010@gmail.com.

The Fisheries Act has been in place since 1868 and is one of the strongest acts protecting wildlife habitat in Canada. The Harper government is planning to change the act from its current form that bans any “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat” to a revised version that would ban anything causing "adverse effect" on "fish of economic, cultural or ecological value".

This change to the law would protect species of fish, while ignoring the conservation of the habitat that they live in. However, this change is illogical because you cannot isolate fish from their habitat. If the habitat is unprotected, it will be reflected in direct negative effects on the fish populations themselves.

Fish rely on their habitat for all aspects of their survival. Any chemicals or pollutants that may enter the water, for instance in the case of an oil spill, can have direct negative impacts on fish survival. In order to maintain the well-being of fish populations, you must maintain the well-being of the habitat that they reside in. Therefore, legislation protecting the fish must also protect their habitat.

The primary motivation behind the alteration to the Fisheries Act appears to be to facilitate approval of the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. This pipeline would run from the Alberta Tar Sands to the port of Kitimat in British Columbia, carrying over 525,000 barrels of oil to the west coast daily.

A pipeline project of this size can be expected to suffer from some form of failure after 28 years of operation due to stress and corrosion. The proposed pipeline route would cross many streams and rivers that are home to a variety of fish species, and thus would pose a threat to all of these species in the event of a pipeline leak or spill.

The crude oil to be carried by the proposed pipeline would contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals are toxic when absorbed by fish embryos, leading to abnormal embryonic development and elevated mortality rates. This is a huge problem, especially for our already declining salmon stocks due to the fact that they only reproduce once in their lifetime. We are already facing a decline in biodiversity and with the revision of the Fisheries Act, we as Canadians will be edging further away from our responsibility to maintain biodiversity in the face of habitat destruction.

In conclusion, there is something wrong with altering the law for the purposes of escaping the restrictions it imposes. Laws are set in place for a reason, and in this case, it seems far more appropriate to modify the pipeline project so that it satisfies legal regulations, rather than modifying the legal regulations to fit the pipeline project. Reconsider the Pipeline Proposal – Not the Fisheries Act.