National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms

Table of Contents

Members of the Task Group on Introductions and Transfers

  • Iola Price – Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Co-Chair
  • Kevin Callele – Saskatchewan – Environment and Resource Management – Co-Chair
  • Gary Caine – British Columbia – Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries
  • Hugh Norris – Alberta – Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development
  • Shelley Matkowski – Manitoba – Manitoba Conservation
  • Beth MacKay– Ontario – Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Bernard Bergeron – Québec – Wildlife and Parks of Québec
  • Sandi McGeachy – New Brunswick – Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Murray Hill – Nova Scotia – Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Neil MacNair – Prince Edward Island – Ministry of Fisheries, Aquaculture and the Environment
  • Brian Meaney – Newfoundland and Labrador – Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture
  • Don Toews – Yukon – Ministry of Environment

By correspondence

  • John Colford – Northwest Territories – Ministry of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development
  • Doug Stewart – Northwest Territories – Ministry of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development
  • Carey Bonnell – Nunavut – Department of Sustainable Development

ex officio

  • Dennis Orbay – Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Paul Lyon – Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Office of Sustainable Aquaculture

Former members

  • Duane Radford – Alberta – Ministry of Sustainable Resource Development
  • Alan Dextrase – Ontario – Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Serge Gonthier and Yvan Turgeon – Québec – Wildlife and Parks of Québec
  • Edward Black – Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Aquaculture Science Branch

Top of Page


The National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms sets in place a mechanism (Introductions and Transfers Committees) for assessing proposals to move aquatic organisms from one water body to another. It also provides all jurisdictions with a consistent process (the Risk Assessment procedure) for assessing the potential impacts of intentional introductions and transfers of aquatic organisms.

The Code applies to all aquatic organisms (called fish hereafter) in fresh water and marine habitats. These include finfish, molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms, and other invertebrates, aquatic plants, both attached to the bottom and floating, and other aquatic animals as defined in the Fisheries Act. It applies to all activities in which live aquatic organisms are introduced or transferred into fish bearing waters, or fish rearing facilities such as aquaculture, and for commercial and recreational fishing including biological control programs e.g. control of aquatic vegetation.

The federal and provincial/territorial governments want to maximize the benefits associated with introductions or transfers and at the same time, they wish to avoid

  • risks of harmful alterations to natural aquatic ecosystems;
  • risks of deleterious genetic changes in indigenous fish populations; and,
  • risks to aquatic animal health from the potential introduction and spread of pathogens and parasites that might accompany aquatic organisms being moved.

In sum, the Code is intended to protect aquatic ecosystems while encouraging responsible use of aquatic resources for the benefit of Canadians. Federal, provincial and territorial governments agree to work co-operatively in applying this Code to national and regional regulations and policies that govern intentional introductions and transfers. Provinces and territories and the federal government will work to ensure that affected jurisdictions are given a voice when aquatic organisms are introduced or transferred to shared watersheds.

Humans have been the principal movers of plants and land animals to new areas. The same is true for aquatic species, whether it is the intentional introduction or transfer of an aquatic organism, or the accidental movement of accompanying organisms from one area to another. Some of the major reasons why aquatic organisms have been intentionally introduced or transferred include:

  • to fill perceived "vacant niches" in specific aquatic communities;
  • to create economic benefits through new recreational and commercial fisheries and/or to increase production from aquatic ecosystems (e.g. through aquaculture and enhancement);
  • to enhance diminished populations of a selected species and/or to re-establish extirpated species;
  • to create refuges for species or strains that are threatened with extinction in their native habitats; and,
  • for human food or to use as forage for other aquatic organisms;

The Code has two parts. Part 1 is general background – the purpose of the Code, why Canada needs such a code, what are introductions and transfers (including brief histories of some that have taken place in Canada), what has been the experience with introductions and transfers in Canada and why are there concerns about introductions and transfers. Part 1 also describes, in written and graphic form, who is part of the decision making process and in general terms, how such a mechanism would operate (that is, what happens when someone proposes to move an aquatic organism from one water body to another within a province or territory or into a province or territory).

Part 2 is the main body of the Code. It briefly describes the legal framework and the Guiding Principles of the Code. Part 2 also commits provinces and territories and the federal government to establishing Introductions and Transfers Committees in each province or territory if they do not already exist there. As well, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans agrees to establish a registry of introductions and transfers so that national reports can be issued on a regular basis for public information.

There is a list of definitions, a list of scientific references on the topic of introductions and transfers, and 5 appendices.

Appendix I contains information on the regional, provincial, national and international regulations, policies, and guidelines that apply to introductions and transfers of aquatic organisms in Canada.

Appendix II outlines the roles and responsibilities of:

  • The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and/or the Provincial Fisheries Minister – in regard to the Code and Introductions and Transfers;
  • The Assistant Deputy Minister of Science for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO);
  • The Regional Director General of DFO and/or the Provincial/Territorial Director of Fisheries;
  • The Proponent for the introduction or transfer;
  • The Introductions and Transfers Committees;
  • The Aquaculture Science Branch of DFO.

Appendix III outlines the nature and scope of information that the proponent of an introduction or transfer should provide in support of the proposal. The major kinds of information required include:

  • Who is making the proposal;
  • What is being proposed for introduction and why;
  • Where will the aquatic organism come from and where is it to go;
  • Information on the life history of the organism;
  • How is it expected to interact with native species already in the water body;
  • Information about the water body into which the aquatic organism is to be placed;
  • What precautions are being taken to avoid problems; and,
  • Scientific references to back up the proposal.

Appendix IV, the Risk Assessment, is perhaps the most important part of the document. In some jurisdictions, the proponent will prepare the risk assessment and the Introductions and Transfers Committee will review it. In other jurisdictions, the Introductions and Transfers Committee will do the risk assessment or contract out the work to a competent third party. The object of the Risk Assessment is to identify whether the proposed Introduction or Transfer presents a low, medium or high risk for the receiving environment. The Risk Assessment is an adaptation of internationally acknowledged models and processes. The procedures asks questions and the answers are entered into a box in a table. The person or committee answering the questions is asked, on the basis of the scientific literature and/or the person's own personal knowledge, to answer whether the organism is likely to become established in the receiving environment and if the answer is yes, to state what the consequences of that establishment would be in terms of ecological, genetic or disease impacts. Each answer should be supported with references.

In all cases, the person must indicate, on a 5-point scale, whether he or she is certain or not certain whether his or her determination of low, medium or high impact is correct. The risk assessment procedure also asks for a description of how mitigation could reduce the risk of negative impacts even lower. (For instance, if there was concern that a species new to the area might become established in a water body, the authorities could require that only males or only females or only infertile individuals of both sexes be introduced so that there could be no mating.)

The final steps in the risk assessment are to place all the answers given in a summary table and, using a pre-established format, come up with a judgement of whether the introduction or transfer will have a low, medium or high risk of negative environmental impacts.

Appendix V is a summary of the whole risk assessment and it is used as the permanent record of the proposal and the review process. It finishes with the Introductions and Transfers Committee's advice to the Decision-Making Authority.