November 8, 2004

DFO, resource groups sign partnership pact to protect fish habitat

A unique partnership agreement between the federal government and seven of Canada's leading resource industry associations will result in better protection of fish habitat and clearer guidance to industries involved in resource development activities. The agreement was signed in Ottawa late last month by Fisheries and Oceans Minister Geoff Regan and the National Resource Industry Associations (NRIA), an umbrella organization representing: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP); the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA); the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA); the Canadian Gas Association (CGA); the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC); the Mining Association of Canada (MAC); and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC).

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is modernizing its environmental processes, Regan noted. "This includes streamlining regulatory processes, enhancing partnerships and clarifying the rules for dealing with developments impacting fish habitat. We are developing an approach that will ensure a more consistent and effective regulatory review process for industry projects that have the potential to impact on fish and fish habitat in Canada," he explained.

"This agreement is a win-win situation," said CAPP president Pierre Alvarez. "Industry gains greater certainty, efficiency and clear operating rules in complying with the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act, and Canadians are assured of better protection of fish habitat."

Under the terms of reference for the co-operation agreement, DFO and the NRIA will establish, and appoint representatives to, a steering committee which will meet regularly to: determine challenges, issues and areas of common interest; define priorities for collaboration; develop and implement an annual work plan and budget; and set up working groups, as required, to address components of the work plan. The committee will also organize one or more annual workshops to review progress in implementing the work plan and determine priorities for future work, and will be responsible for reporting annually on progress to the NRIA member associations and to the DFO deputy minister.

The objectives of the agreement include:

improving understanding among all parties of the Fisheries Act and related processes under legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, and other acts;

increasing compliance through better understanding and awareness of the requirements of the Fisheries Act and other relevant legislation and regulations; and

working co-operatively to develop clear statements defining low-impact projects which will not require authorizations, so that efforts and resources can then be focused on monitoring and on activities or projects with the highest potential risk to habitat.

CEA president Hans Konow said the new agreement builds on a Memorandum of Understanding his association previously signed with DFO on fish habitat.

"From our perspective," he noted, "this initiative is particularly valuable as it focuses on the fact that there is a need to balance the multiple uses for our shared water resource, including electricity generation. Our association is very interested in the work of the NRIA to define mechanisms that protect fish and fish habitat and simultaneously encourage efficient operation of the resource industries that provide jobs and essential services to all Canadians."

Regan noted that a key element in DFO's environmental process modernization plan, and in the success of this agreement, is to establish fish habitat co-operation agreements with provinces and territories. This will reduce duplication of effort and project processing times. These agreements are also well advanced.

"By partnering with seven associations from different resource industries who have recognized that many of their activities and projects that may impact fish habitat are common, we better enable ourselves to anticipate and solve problems before they get built into a project," he stated.

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