Hey, Quebec scientists, want to measure a fish? That'll be $320

Quebec's Wildlife Ministry has quietly introduced new fees that will force researchers — including volunteers, teachers and students — to pay to examine wildlife in their natural habitats.

Quebec government introduces new fee for research permits

Researchers in Quebec who want to measure or handle a fish such as this or any other animal will now have to pay fees of up to $626. (Isabelle Picard)

Quebec's Forests, Wildlife and Parks Ministry has quietly introduced new fees that will force researchers — including volunteers, teachers and students —  to pay to examine wildlife in their natural habitats.

The new fees for research permits were published without fanfare in the province's official Gazette in March.

"I was shocked," biologist and author Isabelle Picard told CBC in an interview.

"If you do citizen science as a volunteer, paying $300 for a permit is just crazy. It means science is less accessible for those who don't have money," Picard said.

Up to $626 per research project

Researchers have always had to apply for a permit if they want to touch, measure or manipulate any wildlife in the course of their work.  But there's never been a fee attached to that.

List of new fees:

  • permit for research project for educational purposes: $67
  • permit for research project for educational purposes performed in more than one administrative region: $131
  • permit for research project for wildlife management purposes: $320
  • permit for research project for wildlife management purposes in more than one administrative region: $626
  • permit to modify wildilife habitat: $506 - $2,529

Picard says, for example, if a beaver dam was threatening an endangered frog habitat and a biologist wanted to dismantle the beaver dam, they would now need a permit to modify wildlife habitat, for which the fee ranges from $526 to $2,529.

Non-profits, students, volunteers affected

Picard is an author and independent researcher who studies fish, mussels, frogs and turtles.

She said she applies for between five and ten permits a year, meaning the new fee would cost her or the non-profit groups for which she does contract work as much as $3,200 a year.

She said the fee would also apply to high school teachers who want to take students to a stream to look at fish, or conservation groups who want to get more information about species in their local lake.

Minister initially laughs off concerns

Quebec Forests, Wildlife and Parks Minister Laurent Lessard Wildlife Minister Laurent Lessard dismissed concerns about the new fees during question period at the National Assembly Tuesday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The regulation published in the provincial Gazette says the fees will cover "administrative services involving the examination of various applications."

In question period Tuesday, Wildlife Minister Laurent Lessard was asked repeatedly about why his ministry was introducing fees that would be particularly onerous for volunteers.

Lessard initially laughed and then insisted his government was not "taxing volunteers".

"Let's be clear, Mr. Speaker.  Volunteers yesterday, volunteers today, volunteers tomorrow: There'll be no taxation.  We invite volunteers to continue to participate in activities across Quebec," Lessard said.

Speaking to reporters at the National Assembly Wednesday, Lessard insisted the new fee was designed to make sure big oil and mining companies which do research pay their fair share.

But it's clear the law will apply equally to independent researchers, as well as volunteer-run groups.

Lessard said there's a fund that such groups can apply to to help defray the cost.

Government charges for research, but keeps information

Picard said the new fee is particularly galling because researchers are obliged to share their data with the government.

She said anytime she applies for a permit to do research she has to provide the government with the data she collects.

"The government saves money by having all these organizations and non-profit biologists doing a survey instead of them," Picard said.
Data gathered by scientists for information on endangered species such as the western chorus frog, pictured here, actually saves the government money, biologist Isabelle Picard said. (Etienne Plasse/Un monde inaperçu)

"This is data about endangered species that goes directly to the government database," she said.

She said her book on freshwater fish in Quebec is a common reference tool used by the ministry.

Now she will have to pay for the privilege of providing the government with free information.

Quebec's Association of Biologists has written to the ministry asking that it reconsider.  It suggests introducing an annual fee for an unlimited number of projects, or better still, eliminating the fee altogether.