Projects Near Water

The Fisheries Act requires that projects avoid causing serious harm to fish unless authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. This applies to work being conducted in or near waterbodies that support fish that are part of or that support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery. Following the measures to avoid harm will help you comply with the Act.

Self-Assessment: Does DFO need to review my project?

DFO has arrangements with some federal agencies and provincial governments who provide project reviews and advice for certain types of projects under the fisheries protection provisions of the Fisheries Act. If your project is regulated by the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, or takes place in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island, consult our guidance on regulatory partnerships before contacting DFO.

For all other projects, follow the guidance below.

Types of waterbodies where DFO review is not required

If your project is taking place in one of the following existing waterbody types, you do not need to submit your project for review to DFO. You are still required to avoid causing serious harm to fish by following best practices such as those described in the measures to avoid harm.

  • Approved marine disposal or dumping sites that have been used in the past 10 years
  • Tailings Impoundment Areas
  • Artificial waterbodies that are not connected to a waterbody that contains fish at any time during any given year, such as:
    • Private ponds
    • Commercial ponds (e.g., golf course ponds, stocked fishing ponds)
    • Stormwater management ponds
    • Irrigation ponds or channels
    • Agricultural drains and drainage ditches
    • Roadside drainage ditches
    • Quarries and aggregate pits
  • Any other waterbody that does not contain fish at any time during any given year
Project activities and criteria where DFO review is not required

If your project activities are listed below and they meet the associated criteria (if applicable), your project does not require DFO review. You are still required to avoid causing serious harm to fish by following best practices such as those described in the measures to avoid harm.

Bridges, Causeways and Culverts
  • Bridges
    • All maintenance activities including cleaning, removal and application of protective coatings, surface replacement, and removal of debris to protect piers and abutments
    • Repairs
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • Construction of ice bridges, temporary bridges and clear-span bridges
      • No earth fill below the High Water Mark (temporary snow fill only)
      • No complete obstruction to fish passage during timing windows
    • All removal activities
  • Causeways
    • Repairs
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Culverts
    • Maintenance activities including the gradual removal of debris and accumulated sediment
      • Flooding downstream can be prevented
      • Extreme flows downstream can be avoided
      • Suspended sediment levels can be managed to levels suitable for fish
      • Fish stranding is unlikely
    • Repairs
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • Replacement
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Channel realignment is not required
      • No narrowing of the channel
      • No complete obstruction to fish passage during timing windows
      • Provides for fish passage if restricted by existing structure
      • Work can be done in isolation of flowing water
    • Removal
      • Work can be done in isolation of flowing water
Cottage, Boating and Recreation
  • Docks
    • All new construction, repair or rebuild of a floating, cantilever or post dock
    • All removal activities
  • Boat Houses
    • New construction, repairs or rebuilds
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Boat Launches / Ramps
    • Construction or repairs
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Aquatic Vegetation Removal
    • Removal of aquatic vegetation by hand or mechanical cutting for swimming areas and private boat access
      • Area is less than 4 meters in width, perpendicular to shore
  • Dredging
    • Dredging for private boat access
      • Area is less than 4 meters in width and 10 meters in length (perpendicular to shore)
    • Marina routine maintenance dredging
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • Dredging material is deposited and stabilized on land (no open water disposal)
      • Dredging has occurred in the last 10 years
  • Excavation
    • In land excavation for nearshore development
      • All work is conducted above the High Water Mark
      • No alteration of water levels in nearby waterbodies
      • No excavation in seasonally inundated areas and floodplains
  • Shoreline Protection
    • Shoreline stabilization such as rock protection, plantings and bioengineering
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Beaches
    • Installation and replenishment of private and public beaches
      • All sand is isolated and contained above the High Water Mark such that sand cannot wash into the water
  • Water Intakes
    • Installation of and repairs to water intakes
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Can avoid killing of fish
    • All removal activities
Harbours and Marine Commercial Activities
  • Breakwaters
    • Repairs to existing breakwaters
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Groynes
    • Repairs to existing groynes
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Moorings
    • All installations of new moorings and repairs to existing moorings
    • All removal activities
  • Piers
    • Repairs to existing piers
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Wharf
    • Repairs to existing wharfs
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Pile driving
    • Repairs to, or replacement of, existing piles
      • Can avoid killing fish
  • Aquaculture Operations
    • All operations of existing open-water finfish facilities that are not licensed by DFO
    • All installations and operations of new shellfish culture facilities and operations of existing shellfish culture facilities that are part of a DFO and/or provincial aquaculture management plan
  • Log Handling / Dumps
    • Existing log dump operations
      • No increase in previous footprint
      • A debris management plan is in place to avoid wood accumulation on site
      • Dump area has been used within the last 10 years
  • Dredging
    • Maintenance dredging for shipping access and ports
  • Open Water Disposal
Drainage, Flood Control, Stormwater and Wastewater Management
  • Stormwater Management Facilities / Basins
    • Construction of new land-based stormwater management facilities, settling ponds and storage basins
      • No work occurring below the High Water Mark of a nearby waterbody
  • Tailings Impoundment Areas
  • Water Outfalls
    • Construction of, and repairs to, water outfalls
      • No increase in previous footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Drainage Channels
    • Construction and routine clean-out of drainage channels
      • Clean-out has occurred in the past 10 years
      • Work can be done in the dry or under frozen conditions
  • Aquatic Vegetation Removal
    • Removal of aquatic vegetation by hand or mechanical cutting for flood control
  • Dykes
    • Repairs to existing dykes
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Berms
    • Repairs to existing berms
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
Flow Management
  • Dams
    • Repairs to existing dams
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Fishways / Ladders
    • Repairs to existing fishways and fish ladders
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • No complete obstruction to fish passage during timing windows
  • Weirs
    • Repairs to existing weirs
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
Water Diversion and Dewatering
  • Dewatering / Pumping
    • Use of temporary dams and pumps or diversion channels for construction site isolation purposes
      • Can avoid killing fish
      • Can restore site back to existing condition
Water Taking
  • Water Intake
    • Repairs to existing intakes
      • No increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Can avoid killing fish
    • All removal activities
  • Water Extraction
    • Surface water extraction for commercial bottling, drinking and sanitary, industrial use, thermal/nuclear generation, agricultural irrigation and other uses
      • There is no reduction in the width of nearby waterbodies
    • Groundwater extraction for commercial bottling, drinking and sanitary, industrial use, thermal/nuclear generation, agricultural irrigation and other uses
      • No change to baseflow of nearby waterbodies
      • No change to the thermal regime of nearby waterbodies
      • No change to groundwater upwelling locations and volumes in nearby waterbodies
Other Activities
  • Habitat Restoration
    • Habitat restoration projects including riparian planting, bank stabilization, bio-engineering and creation of in-stream structure
      • No new fill below the High Water Mark
      • No complete obstruction to fish passage during timing windows
  • Log Removal/Salvage
    • All commercial submerged log salvage operations
  • Riparian Vegetation Removal
    • Vegetation clearing for maintenance of existing linear projects (e.g., road right-of-ways, electrical and telecommunication transmission corridors) and existing commercial and industrial development sites
      • If your project deals with riparian areas in Southern British Columbia, the provincial Riparian Area Regulation (RAR) may apply.  Please visit the provincial website for more information and follow the provincial process if the RAR applies to your project.
  • Beaver Dam Removal
    • Gradual removal of beaver dams by hand, machinery or explosives
      • Flooding can be prevented
      • No complete obstruction to fish passage during timing windows
  • Mineral Exploration
    • Mineral exploration activities such as site reconnaissance, line cutting, temporary work camp operations, small diameter/low density drilling, high density drilling and/or bulk sampling (extraction or large samples of mineralized material) through large diameter drilling, pitting, trenching and surface stripping
      • A plan is in place to plug and permanently seal artesian flow if encountered
      • All work can be done on land with the exception of small diameter/low density drilling which can be carried out on ice
  • Blasting / Explosives
    • Use of explosives for blasting associated with road construction, mining, housing and cottage lot development
      • Can avoid killing fish
  • Underwater Cables
    • All installations on lakebeds and in the marine environment

If your project IS NOT in one of the above waterbody types, and its activities ARE NOT listed above, nor does it meet the associated criteria (if applicable), you may submit a request for review to DFO before proceeding further.

If you are UNSURE about whether your project requires DFO review, you can seek support from a qualified environmental professional.

Projects near water must also comply with the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to ensure you follow any additional requirements from other federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions.

If, after you have reviewed the information above (and have sought professional advice if needed), you still have questions about whether your project requires DFO review, you can contact your regional Fisheries Protection Office.

This information was last updated on February 27, 2014. It is strongly recommended that you visit this website often to receive the most recent DFO advice.