Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Letter from the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution to Minister Ashfield and PM Harper

My former supervisor, Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, current President for the Canadian Society of Ecology and Evolution (of which I am a member) sent the following letter to Keith Ashfield, and distributed copies to all members of the CSEE.  I post the letter below so that my Canadian friends can see the concerns that leading Canadian scientists have about the state of science and our biological resources under the Harper government.

The Honourable Keith Ashfield 29 May 2012
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
200 Kent Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6

Dear Minister Ashfield,

I am writing in my capacity as President of the Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution (CSEE). The 1000-strong membership of the non-partisan CSEE includes ecologists and evolutionary biologists from across Canada. The concerns expressed here are made on behalf of the CSEE and address the announced changes to the Fisheries Act and the closure of the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area research facility in northwestern Ontario.

On 19 March 2012, I wrote you a letter in which I presented the CSEE’s concerns regarding proposed changes to the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act. Please note that I have not received a response to this letter.

Contrary to scientific advice, the Government of Canada has proposed the following text to replace the current wording of section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act: “no person shall carry on any work, undertaking or any activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery”.

Notwithstanding anticipated difficulties in ever proving “serious harm” (as defined by the act) before the courts, this revision will remove habitat protection provisions for most of Canada’s freshwater fish.

The revision will also impair Canada’s ability to fulfil its legislated obligations to prevent the extinction of aquatic species. It is improbable that 80% of the 71 wildlife species of freshwater fish at risk of extinction in Canada would be considered “fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery, or…fish that support such a fishery”. Removal of the protection of habitat for fish also removes the habitat protection afforded indirectly to other aquatic life that share Canada’s waters with fish, such as amphibians, reptiles, mussels, crayfish, and numerous aquatic plants and insects.

Regarding the Experimental Lakes Area, or ELA, the CSEE expresses profound disappointment in the surprising and short-sighted decision to close this unique research facility. Consisting of 58 small lakes and their watersheds, it provides unparalleled opportunities to undertake whole-ecosystem manipulation experiments. There is no comparable research facility in the world.

Initiated in the late 1960s, the scientific fruit borne by the internationally lauded and respected ELA has been tremendous, resulting in more than 1000 peer-reviewed papers, reports, book chapters, and student theses. Of singular importance is the fact that ELA research has contributed enormously to national and international management policies associated with factors affecting human and environmental health, such as acid rain, eutrophication, mercury pollution, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and other aquatic pollutants and toxins.
Among the many contributions of ELA research to Canadians and to citizens globally, two bear particular mention:

1. Access to healthy, safe, and clean water; and
2. Access to fish and other aquatic life safe for human consumption.

As noted by the Government of Canada’s Framework for Science and Technology Advice: Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Use of Science and Technology Advice in Government Decision Making:
“Science advice has an important role to play by contributing to
government decisions that serve Canada’s strategic interests and
concerns in areas such as public health and safety, food safety,
environmental protection, sustainable development, innovation, and
national security.”
Your decision to close the ELA research facility strips Canada of one its key scientific jewels and unjustly compromises the ability of science to contribute to the health and safety of our fresh waters and the well-being of Canadians.

In the interests of all sectors of Canadian society, we request that you withdraw the proposed habitat protection revisions to the Fisheries Act and that you repeal the decision to close the ELA.

Yours sincerely,

Jeffrey A. Hutchings
President, Canadian Society For Ecology and Evolution
Killam Professor, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University

No comments: