Environmental groups get ready to fight DFO appeal

By Matt Law
[Media Editor]

Canadian environmental groups are vowing to fight a Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ appeal of a Federal Court ruling that increased protection of killer whale habitat.

The Dec. 7, 2010 ruling, made by Justice James Russell, sided with eight environmental groups, stating that, “The minister of Fisheries and Oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the resident killer whales was already legally protected by existing laws,” wrote Russell.

This judgment came as a decisive and precedent-setting victory for conservationists.

“The court ruled that discretionary laws, such as the Fisheries Act, do not sufficiently protect critical habitat of these endangered species,” said Keith Ferguson, a staff lawyer for Ecojustice, in a media release.

Two groups of killer whales, and other marine life, in coastal B.C. waters are affected by this decision; a northern population, of approximately 235 whales, and a southern population of close to 85.

The southern group of whales are listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act, and the northern group are listed as threatened.

“Clearly, discretionary protection doesn’t work,” said Susan Howatt of Sierra Club B.C., in the Ecojustice
media release. “DFO had the power to protect killer whales under the Fisheries Act for decades, during which B.C.’s killer whale population shrunk and became endangered.”

The DFO argues that discretionary provisions in the Fisheries Act currently protect habitat for killer whales and protection under the Species at Risk Act is unnecessary.

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