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.

SARA-listed aquatic species

For more information on harmful activities and threats to aquatic species at risk, please consult the documents produced for the species in question at:

Are there SARA-listed aquatic species or critical habitat at your project site?

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibits the killing, harming, harassment, possession, capturing or taking of a species listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened; the damage or destruction of a residence or the destruction of any part of the critical habitat of such a listed species, unless authorized by the Minister who is responsible for the species in question. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for the protection of aquatic species at risk wherever they are found with the exception of areas administered by Parks Canada Agency.

To protect fish and fish habitat, including aquatic species at risk, their residences, and their critical habitat, efforts should be made to avoid, mitigate and/or offset harm. Following the measures to avoid harm will help you comply with the Fisheries Act and SARA.

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

If your new or existing project is in relation to aquaculture (marine or freshwater fish, including hatcheries, or shellfish) contact the DFO Regional Aquaculture Management Office responsible for the province or territory in which your project is located to determine how to comply with either the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations if your project is located in British Columbia, or the Aquaculture Activities Regulations if your project in located elsewhere in Canada.

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.

If your project is taking place in the James Bay Territory in Quebec, consult the Voluntary Proponent-driven Information Exchange Program for the Self-Assessment of Projects subject to the Fisheries Act.

Use the criteria below to determine if your project requires a review by DFO. If your project cannot avoid serious harm to fish or is likely to contravene one of the SARA prohibitions with respect to aquatic species, and is not included in either of the criteria below, please submit a request for review. Specially identified criteria addressing SARA concerns are also provided if an aquatic species at risk, their residence or critical habitat occurs at your project site (see DFO's Aquatic Species at Risk Maps).

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 and contravening SARA prohibitions. Following best practices such as those described in the measures to avoid harm will help you avoid causing harm and comply with the Fisheries Act and SARA.

  • 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 or contravening SARA prohibitions. Following best practices such as those described in the measures to avoid harm will help you to avoid causing harm and to comply with the Fisheries Act and SARA. If your project does not meet these criteria, it is recommended that you submit a request for review.

SARA

Criteria for projects not requiring DFO review have taken into consideration the protection of aquatic species at risk listed under SARA, their critical habitat and residences where they may be present (see DFO’s Aquatic Species at Risk Maps).

Please note that the taking or capture of aquatic species listed under SARA as endangered or threatened (e.g., during baseline environmental studies, site isolation, fish salvage, or shellfish relocation activities), or any entrainment or impingement of such species (e.g., at water intakes) is contrary to SARA section 32 and therefore requires approval from DFO. Please submit a request for review in these situations.

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
    • Species at Risk No permanent increase in existing footprint above the high water mark if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur, no scaffolding or support structures will be placed directly on the bed of the watercourse.
    • Species at Risk No new construction of overhead structures where Resident Killer Whales could occur
  • 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
      • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed aquatic species occur, no culvert repairs or replacements will take place
    • Removal
      • Work can be done in isolation of flowing water
      • Any obstruction to fish passage will respect timing windows
    • Species at Risk Where critical habitat or residences of SARA-listed aquatic species occur, or endangered or threatened shellfish occur, no dredging or excavation of the waterbody will take place except where exempted in the recovery strategy for that species.
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed aquatic species, their residences or critical habitat occur:
      • No permanent increase in existing footprint above the high water mark if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
      • No removal of riparian vegetation if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur:
      • No scaffolding or support structures will be placed directly on the bed of the watercourse
      • No dredging or excavation of the waterbody will take place
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
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur, or critical habitat or residences of freshwater SARA-listed aquatic species occur no new temporary or permanent fill placed below the High Water Mark
  • 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
    • Species at Risk Where critical habitat or residences of SARA-listed aquatic species occur, no new construction of public or commercial boat launches and ramps
  • 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)
      • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed aquatic species or their critical habitat or residences occur, only hand cutting will take place, no mechanical cutting
  • 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)
      • Species at Risk No dredging activities will take place where SARA-listed shellfish occur except where exempted in the recovery strategy for that species
    • 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
      • Species at Risk No dredging activities will take place where SARA-listed shellfish occur except where exempted in the recovery strategy for that species
  • 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
      • Species at Risk No excavation in the in the riparian area if it is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
  • 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
      • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur, or where critical habitat of freshwater SARA-listed aquatic species occurs, no installation of new public beaches
  • 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
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur, no installation of new moorings
  • Pile driving
    • Repairs to, or replacement of, existing piles
      • Can avoid killing fish and avoid harming, harassing, taking or capturing SARA-listed aquatic species
  • 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
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed shellfish occur, or critical habitat or residences of freshwater endangered or threatened aquatic species occur, no dredging activities will take place except where exempted in the recovery strategy for that species
    • Species at Risk Where Southern or Northern Resident Killer Whale could occur, PCB analysis of the substrate to be dredged was undertaken within the last 5 years and mitigation measures over and above best management practices for dredging were not required
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
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed aquatic species, their residences or critical habitat occur, no construction or clean-out activities will take place
  • 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
      • Species at Risk No removal of riparian vegetation if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
  • Aquatic vegetation removal
    • Removal of aquatic vegetation by hand or mechanical cutting for flood control
    • Species at Risk Where critical habitat of SARA-listed aquatic species occurs, only hand cutting will be done, no aquatic vegetation removal by mechanical cutting will take place
  • 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
      • Species at Risk Where critical habitat of SARA-listed aquatic species occurs, no dam repairs will take place
  • 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
      • Species at Risk Where critical habitat of SARA-listed aquatic species occurs, no dam repairs will take place
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
    • Species at Risk No removal of riparian vegetation if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk. Where SARA-listed aquatic species, their residences or critical habitat occur, the type of work will follow the specific conditions listed under the section of the website called “Project activities and criteria where DFO review is not required”
  • 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.
    • Species at Risk No removal of riparian vegetation if the riparian area is identified as part of the critical habitat of an aquatic listed species at risk
  • 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
    • Species at Risk Where SARA-listed aquatic species, their residences or critical habitat occur beaver dam removal will not occur under frozen conditions where fish may be overwintering
  • 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
    • Species at Risk Where critical habitat of SARA-listed aquatic species occurs, no open trench methods, including ploughing and water-jetting, will be used to bury cables
  • 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, 2016. 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.