DFO in the dock. Part III

Judge's decision on dragging: fisheries minister not courts, must protect fish habitat

HALIFAX (19 August 2004) -- The Ecology Action Centre released a statement to the press today regarding the legal case brought by the Ecology Action EAC and the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in the Federal Court against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for allowing draggers, that is the big boats, the big trawling boats, to destroy marine habitat. The case was heard in the Federal Court in Halifax on 27-28 January 2004. The full text of the press release follows.

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Last week, a federal court judge released her decision in a case launched by the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) to protect fish habitat from destruction caused by dragging. The judge upheld arguments put forward by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that the Department acted within its powers when it permitted dragging to occur on Georges Bank, off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia.

"We at the EAC and our great legal team from Sierra Legal Defence Fund are deeply disappointed," says Mark Butler of EAC. "We began this case in 2001 because we wanted a sustainable fishery, and nothing that DFO presented in this three-year process has provided evidence that dragging isn't destructive to fish habitat and to the productivity of the fisheries. The Minister's silence speaks volume about the government's total lack of integrity and leadership on this matter."

The Judge based her decision on matters relating to the powers of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the lack of a direct link between an order allowing the opening of Georges Bank to fishing and the resulting damage to fish habitat from dragging. She also dealt with the issue of whether Section 35 of the federal Fisheries Act applies to fishing. However, she made no ruling on the question the groups specifically wanted address: is DFO facilitating the destruction of fish habitat in contravention of the Fisheries Act by allowing dragging?

"Of course we want to win in court," says Butler, "But most importantly we want to win on the water, where fish stocks are being depleted and corals and sponges and all fish habitat is being destroyed each day by draggers. Clearly, the Court has laid the task of stopping this destruction at the feet of the Fisheries Minister, Geoff Regan. We anxiously await his response."

The EAC and Sierra Legal are currently considering options for the future of the case and the impact of the Court's decision that the Fisheries Act does not protect fish habitat from destructive fishing gear.

The full decision is available on the Federal Court's website at the following address: http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/fct/2004/2004fc1087.shtml

For more information, please contact:
Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre (902) 429-2202, www.ecologyaction.ca

Rob Wright, Staff Lawyer, SLDF, (416) 363-2746, www.sierralegal.org
Mitch Anderson, Staff Scientist, SLDF, 604-685-5618, Ext. 288

See also Shunpiking Online article and interview:

- "DFO in The Dock", Part I, 27 Janaury 2004

- "DFO in the dock" Part II, Interview with Wayne Eddy, 28 January 2004

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