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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

Spring 2002   —   More Thoughts on the DFO…

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has never served the best interests of wildlife in this country. The DFO is first and foremost concerned with the economy of exploiting wildlife. One need only look at the current situation regarding many wild species of fish in this country for proof.

Seals and whales also fall under the jurisdiction of the DFO, and therein lies the problem: protection measures for both have always been poor as both are regulated from the exploitative perspective, i.e. how can Canada best profit from these species. This view undermines any attempts to protect the species for animal welfare or conservation purposes.

Years back, when biologists with the DFO were studying the effects increased toxic effluents were having on beluga whales in the Saguenay, (and indeed, these biologists were the first to sound the alarm on the beluga situation), the DFO’s reaction was to sit on the research, and do nothing. After years of warnings, these dedicated researchers resigned from the government and continued the fight as independents.

The current seal hunt situation is a perfect example of the DFO looking at ways to profit. The Fisheries industry is in a shambles: therefore which resources should be next to exploit? Seals are the obvious answer, as they are still numerous and a perfect scapegoat for the decrease in fish numbers. The science may tell us that seals were never the main culprit in decreased fish stocks, but the DFO doesn’t feel compelled to listen.

It is clear that the Department has been wanting to expand the seal hunt for a long time. Hoping to avoid the international black eye Canada received years ago due to graphic public relation campaigns by animal welfare groups, the annual seal hunt in recent years is off limits to observers, and with the DFO’s lack of public information, the intention is clearly "out of sight, out of mind."

It is difficult for us to protest the cruel practices or mismanagement policies of other countries towards their wildlife, when our own are hardly better. And those species regulated by Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) don’t fare that well either: the proposed Federal Species at Risk Act is going through its 3rd parliamentary reading. Many compromises have been made as concessions to the multitude of interest groups.

For conservationists the biggest sticking point in earlier versions of the proposal had been that the government, rather than scientists, had the final word on which species would be entitled to legal addition to the List.

There were attempts to amend this aspect by having the scientific community do the legal listing, however this has not happened and in the Act’s current state, the government will retain the final word on which species get listed, however a compromise has been struck whereby scientists will provide the list of species, but Cabinet still retains the right to remove species if they give sufficient reason. Since when has government ever needed to give a reason?

In any event, if the Act fails this third reading, will there be a fourth, then a fifth? What then? It’s deplorable that in a country such as Canada, our wild species and our wild places are regarded either with such indifference, or as a means to exploitation.

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