Avoid, mitigate or offset harm to fish and fish habitat, including aquatic species at risk

To protect fish and fish habitat, including aquatic species at risk, efforts should be made to avoid causing serious harm, to mitigate any harm that may be caused and to offset any residual harm.

Avoid and mitigate harm

If you are conducting a project near water, it is your responsibility to ensure you avoid causing serious harm to fish to be in compliance with the Fisheries Act and that you avoid contravening SARA prohibitions (sections 32 and 33 and subsection 58(1)).

The measures to avoid and mitigate harm will help you comply with the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act (SARA) with respect to aquatic species. This advice applies to all project types and replaces all “Operational Statements” previously produced by DFO for different project types in all regions.

Pathways of Effects (PoE) diagrams are used to identify potential causes of harm to fish and fish habitat. Once potential causes have been identified, you can use the measures to avoid harm to identify options to avoid or mitigate the harm. PoEs are typically created as part of the request for review process.


You should also be aware 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 in-takes) is contrary to SARA section 32 and therefore requires approval from DFO. Please submit a request for review in these situations.

Offset harm

Offsetting harm is required when harm cannot be avoided or mitigated and you are applying for a project authorization from DFO.

The objective of offsetting is to counterbalance unavoidable serious harm to fish, and the loss of fisheries productivity, resulting from a project. Offsetting measures support and enhance the sustainability and ongoing productivity of fish that are part of or support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery.

The Fisheries Productivity Investment Policy provides guidance on undertaking effective measures to offset serious harm to fish that are part of or that support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, consistent with the fisheries protection provisions of Canada's Fisheries Act.