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A fisherman hauls up the netting of a fish compound at the Goose Berry Cove Cod fish farm near Goose Berry Cove, Newfoundland.

Greg Locke/The Globe and Mail

Fish species do not simply live in isolation from other fish species. That is why the amendments in the federal Fisheries Act in the 452-page budget implementation bill should themselves be amended

If these changes are enacted, fish useful in very specific ways to human beings will have a privileged status. In the bill, there recur phrases such as "the contribution of the relevant fish to the ongoing productivity of commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries" and "serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries, or to fish that support such a fishery." When, for example, the fisheries minister considers a new regulation, he will be required to think about whether it will benefit those categories of fish.

All this does not take into account the fact that oceans, rivers and lakes are ecosystems. Species are interdependent. The bill's creation of a class hierarchy among fish could well invite disaster.

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Among the opponents of the amendments are two former Progressive Conservative fisheries ministers, John Fraser (also a former Speaker), and Tom Siddon. Moreover, John Cummins, the decidedly conservative Leader of the reinvigorated Conservative Party of British Columbia, agrees: "There is that potential for serious damage to the fisheries resource, if we move in the way that's prescribed."

In a sense, the current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Keith Ashfield, confirms that the bill would narrow the scope of fisheries policy: "We are focusing our fish and fish-habitat protection rules on Canada's fisheries," adding as a rhetorical flourish, "not in farmers' ditches."

It is true that some parts of the Fisheries Act amendments are good; some of them strengthen enforcement. But the amendments need revision – or, preferably, they should be moved into a separate bill, where they could be studied knowledgeably the Fisheries and Ocean Committee of the House of Commons – not by the Finance Committee, which the omnibus bill has desperately overburdened.

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