Frequently Asked Questions

About the Act

Why was the Species at Risk Act (SARA) created?

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was created to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct. The Act protects species at risk and their critical habitats. SARA also contains provisions to help manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or extinct.

When did SARA take effect?

While SARA became law on June 5, 2003, the prohibitions under the Act did not become enforceable until June 2004. These prohibitions make it illegal to kill or harm species listed under the Act, or to destroy their critical habitats.

Will the Act save species from extinction?

SARA is a key tool in the fight to protect species at risk. It complements other laws and programs of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments, and supports the efforts of conservation organizations and other partners working to protect Canadian wildlife and habitat. The ultimate success of SARA depends on cooperation: on government, industry and the Canadian public working together. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to help protect and recover species at risk.

How many aquatic species are listed under the Act?

Many aquatic species have been classified at risk under SARA. Species currently listed include the spotted and northern wolffish, Atlantic whitefish and Inner Bay of Fundy salmon as well as marine animals such as the harbour porpoise and steller sea lion. Review the full list of aquatic species currently protected under SARA.

What is the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)?

COSEWIC’s raison d’être is to identify species at risk. An independent committee of wildlife experts and scientists from federal, provincial and territorial governments, universities, and non-government organizations, COSEWIC uses a scientific process to assess the risk of extinction for wildlife species. It meets annually to review status reports on species suspected of being at risk and provides assessments to government and the public.

How are species listed as endangered or threatened under SARA?

There are a number of steps in the process. First, an independent group of experts called the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), assesses species to determine whether they are at risk. COSEWIC’s designations are based on status reports prepared by independent experts, and informed by the best available scientific research, community knowledge and traditional Aboriginal insights.

Status reports are reviewed by COSEWIC’s species specialist groups who then make recommendations to the larger COSEWIC committee. The committee’s decision to designate a species considers criteria such as the extent of a species’decline and its overall abundance. COSEWIC designations are regarded as recommendations to the federal government; the government makes the final decision on whether species will be listed under SARA.

If COSEWIC determines that a species is at risk, then the federal Cabinet must determine whether to list that species under the Act. This decision is not made in isolation: it is made after the federal government holds consultations with affected stakeholders and other groups, taking into account the economic and social implications that listing a species may have on Canadians’lives and livelihoods.

What happens once a species is listed under SARA?

Once a species is listed under the Species at Risk Act, it becomes illegal to kill, harass, capture or harm it in any way. Critical habitats are also protected from destruction. The Act also requires that recovery strategies, action plans and management plans be developed for all listed species.

What are the SARA schedules? I’ve seen that some species are listed under Schedule 1 or Schedule 2. What does this mean?

Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act is the official list of wildlife species at risk in Canada. It includes species that are extirpated (extinct in Canada), endangered, threatened, and of special concern. Once a species is listed on Schedule 1, protection and recovery measures are developed and implemented.

Species that were designated at risk by COSEWIC (the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) before the creation of the Species at Risk Act must be reassessed according to the new criteria of the Act before they can be added to Schedule 1. These species are listed on Schedules 2 and 3, and are not yet officially protected under SARA.

Once the species on Schedules 2 and 3 have been reassessed, the Schedules themselves will be eliminated, and species will simply be listed or not listed under the Act.

What are Recovery Strategies, Action Plans and Management Plans?

Recovery Strategies are detailed plans that outline short-term objectives and long-term goals for protecting and recovering species at risk. These strategies reflect the requirements of SARA, although previously existing recovery strategies and action plans may not.

SARA recovery strategies:

  • describe the particular species and its needs;
  • identify threats to survival;
  • classify the species' critical habitat, where possible;
  • provide examples of activities that are likely to result in destruction of the critical habitat;
  • set goals, objectives and approaches for species recovery;
  • identify information gaps that should be addressed; and
  • state when one or more action plans relating to the strategy will be completed.

Once a species is added to the list and protected officially under SARA, a recovery strategy must be developed. For endangered species, this strategy must be developed within a year of the listing; for threatened or extirpated (extinct in Canada) species, it must be developed within two years.

Action plans summarize the projects and activities required to meet recovery strategy objectives and goals. They include information on habitat, details of protection measures, and evaluation of socio-economic costs and benefits. Action plans are the second element of the Act’s two-part recovery planning process, and are used to implement projects and activities to improve species status.

Management plans differ from recovery strategies and action plans. Management plans set goals and objectives for maintaining sustainable population levels of one or more species that are particularly sensitive to environmental factors, but which are not yet considered in danger of becoming extinct. Whenever possible, management plans are prepared for multiple species on an ecosystem or landscape level.

Who can I contact for more information about SARA?

A good starting place for further general information is the SARA public registry at If you’re looking for specific information about SARA and aquatic species, please visit other sections of this site. You can also contact DFO by phone at 1-866-266-6603 or by email at

How can I find out what the Act might mean to me, my community or my business?

For answers to these questions, visit the What the Act Means for You section of this website.

How do I apply for a SARA permit for scientific research?

If you’re a researcher and are planning to carry out activities that may impact a species that is protected under SARA, you will require a SARA permit (referred to as a Section 73 permit). Visit: SARA Permits for Scientific Research and Education.

What the Act Means to You

What kind of changes can I expect as a result of the Species at Risk Act?

Species at risk will get the protection they need only if all Canadians work together. While it is too early to know all the specific impacts SARA will have on different industries and activities, it is safe to assume there will be changes. The protective measures required will be defined through recovery strategies and action plans specific to each species listed as endangered or threatened. Canadians can be sure that these strategies and plans will be developed in close collaboration with affected stakeholders.

More detailed information on possible changes for the commercial fishing industry can be found under Commercial Fishing in the sidebar menu.

Could the Species at Risk Act shut down my business?

The Government of Canada recognizes that it must protect species at risk while also maintaining economic stability and sustainable industries. Every effort will be made to work with fishing, aquaculture and other industries to meet the objectives of the Act while minimizing its impact on individuals, communities and businesses. It is conceivable that businesses may have to adapt the ways they operate in certain respects; where that is the case, DFO will communicate clearly what needs to be done to avoid uncertainty.

What is Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s role in implementing SARA and protecting aquatic species at risk?

Although Environment Canada has the lead responsibility for protecting species at risk, aquatic species fall under the jurisdiction of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Once the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designates an aquatic species as endangered or threatened, there are a number of steps that DFO must take, namely to:

  • Consult with various stakeholders on the designated species;
  • Provide advice to the Minister of the Environment on whether the species should be listed for legal protection under SARA;
  • Work with affected stakeholders to develop recovery strategies and action plans for species protected under SARA;
  • Conduct additional scientific research on the impact of fisheries and other activities on listed species and their habitats;
  • Update fisheries management plans where applicable to include new conservation measures; and
  • Develop a compliance program.

DFO’s approach is based on sound scientific research and stakeholder consultations. DFO is committed to protecting aquatic species at risk but in a cooperative manner that includes consultation and collaboration with stakeholders.

How much notice will be given of any new prohibitions?

Ongoing consultations will be held with stakeholders across Canada to ensure that new management measures and prohibitions are well publicized.

Will Canadians have a say in any new measures that are implemented as part of the Act?

Definitely. The Species at Risk Act will be successful only if all Canadians work together. All interested stakeholders will be consulted as new management measures are developed and implemented. The SARA registry also provides notice of public consultations and supports participation in decision making.

What is the SARA public registry?

The SARA public registry is an online service that provides timely access to key information and documents including status reports, species assessments, response statements, recovery strategies, action plans and management plans. The registry enables the public to monitor the progress of documents from draft stages to final publication, and provides the public with opportunities to provide comments and feedback. More information about the registry can be found at

Can a species ever come off the list?

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) strives to re-examine the status of each species on its list at least every decade. All new and pertinent information on species is included in an update report. On the basis of the report, a species may be placed in a higher risk category if its status has worsened, remain in the same category, be down-listed to a lesser category, or even be removed from the list altogether.

What can I do to help species at risk?

Each and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that we do everything possible to protect and recover species at risk. Be aware of the Act, learn about aquatic species at risk and take steps to ensure that any activities, work or projects you undertake comply with the Act and won’t harm species at risk.

You can also get involved through the Habitat Stewardship Program which sponsors local initiatives to protect species at risk. For more information, visit the HSP site at