Regulatory Interpretation Policy


The Department's Regulatory Interpretation Policy is an overarching document that outlines the commitments, practices, and tools to be applied by Fisheries and Oceans Canada when providing Canadians and businesses with information and guidance on regulations and regulatory obligations to be met. It also identifies the conditions under which written responses to questions will be provided.

Departmental context

Fisheries and Oceans Canada intends to serve the public interest by managing Canada's fisheries and safeguarding its waters through its legislative and regulatory framework. This will be achieved through sound science, forward-looking policy, and operational and service excellence. 

Fisheries and Oceans Canada employees work collaboratively toward the following three strategic outcomes:

To help the Department develop clear and enforceable regulatory requirements in a collaborative manner; to promote and enforce compliance with regulatory requirements; and, to respond to stakeholder questions, DFO has developed several policy instruments. Examples of these policy instruments include, but are not limited to:

  • Fisheries Protection Policyapplies to proponents of existing or proposed works, undertakings or activities (hereafter referred to as projects) that are likely to result in impacts to fish or fish habitat that are part of or support commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries, including projects that have the potential to affect the passage of fish or modify the flow of watercourses. The Fisheries Protection Policy Statement will be used by officials of the Department and the Department's regulatory partners when administering the fisheries protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.
  • Applicant's Guide to Submitting an Application for Authorization under Paragraph 35(2)(b) of the Fisheries ActThis guide is intended to provide an applicant seeking a Paragraph 35(2)(b) Fisheries Act authorization, with guidance to develop and submit an application in accordance with the Applications for Authorization under paragraph 35(2)(b) of the Fisheries Act Regulations.
  • British Columbia Tidal Waters Sport Fishing Guide (PDF 2,52 MB) and British Columbia Freshwater Salmon Supplement (PDF 1,24 MB): explains the British Columbia Sport Fishing Regulations, 1996 in plain language along with the baseline closure and limit information.
  • How to Package and Transport your Catch: sets out the methods harvesters may use to meet the fish identification requirements in s. 36 of the Fishery (General) Regulations.
  • National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organismsassists clients interested in moving aquatic organisms understand the specific scope and specific federal and provincial requirements necessary for the movement of live aquatic organisms in Canada. The 2003 version of the Code is currently available to the public (on the DFO website) but a renewed Code will be made public and implemented to coincide with the pending implementation of domestic movement controls of National Aquatic Animal Health Program. 

These policy instruments encourage consistency and predictability and lead to the consistent interpretation or application of regulations by DFO's officials, as well as the compliance with regulatory requirements by stakeholders.

Other documents that guide stakeholders on how to comply with the regulations include:

  • Integrated Fishery Management Plans for commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries, which contain information on enforcement.
  • Licences to fish, which contain conditions for commercial fisheries and set out in detail the actions required to fish in line with fisheries management measures in keeping with the proper management, conservation and protection of the resources. 


Plain language commitment

Fisheries and Oceans Canada commits to:

  1. use plain language in developing regulatory guidance;
  2. develop and link Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to the department's most accessed regulations on its Acts and regulations web pages, and to regularly update these FAQs to reflect reoccurring stakeholder questions;
  3. develop FAQs whenever a new regulatory initiative with an impact on business is proposed; and
  4. develop FAQs for areas identified by stakeholders as problematic during the 2014-15 consultation on Interpretation Policy.

Providing guidance and building awareness

DFO communicates regularly with its stakeholders through a variety of means to facilitate the development of guidance documentation, and more broadly to ensure awareness of regulatory compliance requirements.  In addition to the above-mentioned policy instruments, Fisheries and Oceans Canada reaches out to regulatees through a variety of tools such as:

  • Federal web pages
  • Regular meetings with stakeholder organizations
  • Direct communication with individual project proponents
  • Signage related to closed fishing areas
  • Local radio and newspaper advertisements
  • Presentations to school groups on the various fisheries and on how they are regulated
  • Attending fairs, sport and leisure shows, etc. to hand out pamphlets and information sheets on compliance and enforcement

Responding to questions

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to considering and issuing a timely, accurate and helpful response to specific enquiries that stakeholders may have. Enquiries received by the Department will be acknowledged within two business days, to inform stakeholders that their submission has been received and is currently being considered by the Department.

This time commitment does not apply to regulatory enquiries that already have a service standard developed, such as those service standards developed for high volume regulatory authorisations. In this instance, the service standards developed for high volume regulatory authorisations would take the place of the two business day commitment.

Regulatory enquiries made directly to the Minister or the Minister's Office are subject to alternate procedures and service standards, and the two business day time commitment does not apply.

Comments received regarding Departmental proposals that have been pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I or comments received regarding specific Departmental consultations are subject to alternate procedures, and the two business day time commitment does not apply.

Please note that the time it takes to provide any substantive responses will vary depending on the complexity of the issue. Responses will be made to stakeholders in the form that they are made, whether orally or in writing, or as appropriate.


Service commitment

Fisheries and Oceans Canada pledges to serve you with respect and courtesy; offer accurate, timely and helpful service; and address your requests quickly and effectively.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada commits to provide quality service to clients, companies, government departments, local government, interest groups and individuals. This commitment applies to all services Fisheries and Oceans Canada offers: in person, via the Internet, by email, through written correspondence or over the telephone.

Service accountability

Fisheries and Oceans Canada encourages stakeholders to address their issues by contacting either an identified departmental contact or by calling a communication center or the nearest enforcement office, as applicable.

Staff training

Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff receive on-going training to ensure that their officials have the necessary skills and technical knowledge to provide quality service and accurate regulatory guidance. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and development of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) promotes a consistent approach to deliver high quality, professional services and to provide information on regulatory requirements.

Stakeholder engagement

Commitment to stakeholder engagement

Fisheries and Oceans Canada commits to engage stakeholders, as appropriate, when developing, reviewing or refining practices and materials for providing information and guidance on regulatory compliance and answering questions.

Stakeholder engagement mechanisms

Fisheries and Oceans Canada communicates regularly with its stakeholders through a variety of means in the regulatory development process.  For example, consultation opportunities may be found on the Consulting with Canadians website and also on the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Forward Regulatory Plan.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada commits to:

  1. consult with the stakeholders in 2014-15 through the existing consultation mechanisms and ask for feedback on the current Regulatory Interpretation Policy;
  2. identify by March 31st, 2015, the areas where improvement can be made, as well as the measures for evaluating their implementation; and,
  3. review information received and implement improvements over two years and then update Canadians on our performance in implementing these improvements by March 31st, 2017. 

Related report

For more information

To learn about upcoming or ongoing consultations on proposed federal regulations, visit the Canada Gazette and Consulting with Canadians websites.

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