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. To protect fish and fish habitat, efforts should be made to avoid, mitigate and/or offset harm. Following the measures to avoid harm will help you comply with the Act.

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

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.

Use the criteria below to determine if your project requires a review by DFO.  If your project cannot avoid serious harm to fish and is not included in either of the criteria below, please submit a request for review.

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 (as listed in Schedule 2 of the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations)
  • 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, and is not connected to a waterbody that contains fish at any time during any given year
Project activities and criteria where DFO review is not required

If your project meets the criteria listed below, 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 necessary to protect piers and abutments
    • Repairs
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • Construction of ice bridges, snow fills and clear-span bridges
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark (except temporary snow fill)
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect timing windows
    • All removal activities
  • Causeways
    • Repairs
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Culverts
    • Debris removal
      • Gradual removal such that flooding downstream, extreme flows downstream, release of suspended sediment and fish stranding can be avoided
    • Repairs or replacements
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Channel realignment is not required
      • No narrowing of the channel
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect timing windows
      • Provides for fish passage
      • Work can be done in isolation of flowing water
    • Removal
      • Work can be done in isolation of flowing water
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect timing windows
Cottage, Boating and Recreation
  • Docks
    • All new construction, repair or rebuild of a floating, cantilever or post dock where total combined footprint does not exceed 20 m2
    • All removal activities
  • Boat Houses
    • New construction, repairs or rebuilds of boat houses where total combined footprint does not exceed 20 m2
      • No temporary or permanent increase in footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Boat Launches/Ramps
    • Construction or repairs
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent 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
      • Areas less than 4 meters in width (measured along the shoreline) and of any length (out from the shore)
  • Dredging
    • Dredging for private boat access
      • Area being dredged is less than 4 meters in width (including the side sloping) and 10 meters in length (measured out from the shore)
    • Marina routine maintenance dredging
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing 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
  • Moorings
    • All installations of new moorings and repairs to existing moorings
    • All removal activities
  • 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/Bank Stabilization
    • Shoreline/bank stabilization such as rock protection, plantings and bioengineering
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent 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 temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Use fish screens to avoid killing fish
    • All removal activities
Harbours and Marine Commercial Activities
  • Breakwaters, Groynes, Piers and Wharves
    • Repairs to existing breakwaters, groynes, piers and wharves
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
    • All removal activities
  • Moorings
    • All installations of new moorings and repairs to existing moorings
    • 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 a DFO aquaculture licensing program
    • 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 existing 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 and Disposal of Dredged Material
    • Maintenance dredging for commercial marinas, shipping access and ports
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint of dredged and disposal area
      • Dredged material is deposited and stabilized on land or at an approved marine disposal and dumping sites that have been used in the past 10 years
      • Dredging has occurred in the last 10 years
Drainage, Flooding and Erosion 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 temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent 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
  • Bank Stabilization
    • Bank stabilization using rock protection, plantings or bioengineering
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Aquatic Vegetation Removal
    • Removal of aquatic vegetation by hand or mechanical cutting for flood control
  • Dykes
    • Repairs to existing dykes
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • Berms
    • Repairs to existing berms
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
Water Level and Flow Management
  • Dams
    • Repairs to existing dams
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • No increase or decrease in height of dam
      • No change in water levels and flows upstream and downstream of existing dam
  • Fishways/Ladders
    • Repairs to existing fishways and fish ladders
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect timing windows
      • No modification to original design (e.g., height of weirs, number of baffles, distance between baffles)
  • Weirs
    • Repairs to existing weirs
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • No change in water levels and flows upstream and downstream of existing weir
Other Activities
  • Habitat Restoration
    • Restoration projects undertaken with the sole purpose of improving or repairing existing habitats including riparian planting, shoreline/bank stabilization, bio-engineering and creation of in-stream structure
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect 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 or machinery
      • Flooding can be prevented
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect 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 of 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
  • Underwater Cables
    • All installations on lakebeds and in the marine environment
  • Water Intakes - Municipal and Industrial
    • Repairs to existing intakes
      • No temporary or permanent increase in existing footprint below the High Water Mark
      • No new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
      • Use fish screens to avoid killing fish
      • No change in flows
    • All removal activities

Seek advice from a qualified environmental professional if you are unsure about whether your project requires a review by DFO.

Contact a Fisheries Protection Office near you if you have reviewed the information, sought professional advice and still have questions.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to ensure you follow any additional requirements from other federal, provincial and municipal jurisdictions and ensure compliance with the Species at Risk Act and the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act.

This information was last updated on November 18, 2014. It is strongly recommended that you visit this website often to receive the most recent DFO advice. You can also view a detailed log of recent changes to the guidance.