A last-minute amendment to a Fisheries bill is endangering the cattle industry across Canada.
The rules change could see producers accused of destroying fish habitat and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is calling on senators to further amend the bill when they study it.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said in a note it sent to MPs and senators the amendment “would see practically all water bodies deemed fish habitat and thus make it virtually impossible for beef and agricultural producers to be in compliance with the act.”
The last-minute amendment in the Commons made in 2018 changes the definition of fish habitat in the Fisheries Act to cover all areas with the necessary water flow characteristics to sustain ecosystems of fish habitat. The bill was passed by the Commons and has received second reading in the Senate over the objection of several senators.
The CCA and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture want the opportunity to explain their concerns to the Senate Fisheries committee before the bill is passed.
They want the government to address the regulatory burden the bill will impose on farmers and a clearcut and streamlined process to apply for approval for what they deem small and low-risk activities. The groups also want the government to provide clear and simple guidelines to either govern or exempt any artificial water-related infrastructure.
The heart of the issue is the concern the bill creates uncertainty as to whether something like a body of water that isn’t fish habitat, but may join fish habitat due to heavy rain run-off.
That would mean, for example, that excess rainfall on farmland may fall under this definition and draining it would then require a permit from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The CCA said the amendment could interfere with many grazing activities and should be removed.
CFA wants the government to clarify the definition of fish habitat in the bill and ensure it doesn’t include rainwater pooling on cropland.
It said the amendment to the bill greatly expanded what can be deemed fish habitat and designates puddles and watercourses as fish habitat “even if there are no fish using the area for any life process. The expansion of fish habitat results in practically all water bodies being fish habitat or deemed fish habitat. Under the act anyone would be in contravention if they alter, disrupt, or cause destruction of fish habitat.”
When asked about the farm group concerns, a DFO spokesperson did not respond directly to them but said the department was consulting and was open to amendments that will provide for more clarity.
CFA said the amendment creates uncertainty as to whether fish habitat will be deemed to include water not accessible to fish. The amendment could also impact rural municipalities.
During Senate debate on the bill, Senator Don Plett of Manitoba said “unless there is substantive evidence this legislation does something other than hurt farmers while failing to protect fish habitat in any significant way, I will be working and voting against this bill every step of the way.”
Senator Raynell Andreychuk of Saskatchewan said she was concerned about the bill’s intrusive nature and that its fish habitat provision has created fear and anxiety amongst farmers and resource developers. The Senate has to make sure the bill isn’t “burdensome to Canadians at this very fragile economic moment.”