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Protecting fish: Court won't let DFO off hook

A lawsuit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will go to final hearing, the federal court decided today, giving environmental lawyers a chance to test government’s legal obligations under the Species at Risk Act.

The case revolves around allegations that the DFO failed to identify critical habitat – required under the act - in a recovery strategy for the Nooksack Dace, a small freshwater fish, released last year.

DFO lawyers argued that the case was moot because the department later released a revised Nooksack Dace recovery strategy that includes critical habitat.

Ecojustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Environmental Defence, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Wilderness Committee, countered with evidence indicating this is not an isolated case but part of a policy directive to omit critical habitat from any recovery strategy.

The implication of this directive, said Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro, is that environmental groups would have to continue to use lawsuits to get critical habitat identified - a “significant burden” for charity organizations with limited resources.

Tessaro said the presiding official didn’t release the reasons why he rejected the federal government’s arguments to drop the case, but he did indicate that it raised important issues and should proceed.

“This is really exciting,” Tessaro said after court was adjourned late this afternoon. “Everyone is quite relieved that we’re going to get a chance to test the Species at Risk Act in court.”

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