In Canada, fish and fish habitat are protected by the fish habitat protection provisions of the federal Fisheries Act. Fish need healthy places to live, feed and reproduce, and corridors to migrate between these places. The places that supply fish with their life cycle requirements for food, shelter, reproduction and movement are called fish habitat. Lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, marshes, wetlands, canals, drains and sometimes even meadows when under water, can provide important habitat for fish. If you are working on a project in or near Canadian fisheries waters, your activities may affect fish, as well as the birds, wildlife and plants that live along the shore.
Habitat requirements typically change for each stage in a fish's life cycle; from egg to adult. If the various life cycle requirements are not met due to loss of habitat, fish numbers drop, and over time the entire population may even die out.
It is therefore important that we protect the habitat that provides fish with clean water, spawning and rearing grounds, an adequate food supply and clear migration routes. In doing so, we safeguard sport and commercial fishing industries worth millions of dollars annually, provide aboriginal peoples a traditional source of food and income, and help protect our well being by ensuring that the waterbodies around which we live, work and play are environmentally healthy and pleasant places to be.
Unfortunately, fish habitat can be easily damaged and lost due to human activities that occur in or near water or due to water usage. Human activities often result in changes to fish habitat big and small, in ways that are both obvious and subtle. The consequences may profoundly affect the many benefits that marine and freshwater fish provide to Canadians.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) with its Fish Habitat Management Program plays a pivotal role in the conservation and protection of fish habitat in Canada. Within DFO's Central and Arctic Region, Habitat Management staff are located in offices in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These staff are involved in the review of impacts to fish habitat which may result from works and undertakings in or near water. Additionally, with the Conservation and Protection staff, DFO monitors for compliance and, if necessary, enforces the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act. To assist Canadians in being aware of fish habitat concerns, DFO's Habitat Management staff also participate in watershed and coastal zone planning, habitat enhancement projects, restoration projects, public education and stewardship initiatives.