Introducing Canada’s modernized Fisheries Act
Canadians called for strong legislation that protects our fish and fish habitat for future generations. In extensive consultations, we heard from thousands of people, including Indigenous peoples from across the country, who asked for strong, fair and clear legislation that sustains our environment and protects our oceans and water bodies.
A healthy and thriving fishing sector is of vital importance to our economy. While protecting fish and fish habitat was a key focus for this legislation, we also looked at changes to support the sustainability of Canada’s marine resources for generations to come.
On February 6, 2018, we introduced proposed amendments to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act.
On June 21, 2019 the new Fisheries Act received royal assent and became law. The new provisions and stronger protections will better support the sustainability of Canada’s marine resources for future generations.
BEFORE proposed amendments
Protection for commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fisheries
Uncertainty around requirements for development projects
No provisions referencing the independence of inshore fishers
No provisions specifically designed to protect marine biodiversity
No provisions to include Indigenous participation in decision making
No provisions to restore degraded habitat and rebuild fish stocks
AFTER proposed amendments
Protection for all fish and fish habitat
Clearer permitting for development projects
New ability to enshrine inshore policies into regulations
Better ability to protect biodiversity for the long-term
Indigenous traditional knowledge provided must inform habitat decisions
Increased focus on habitat restoration and rebuilding fish stocks
On this page
- Why we made changes
- What's new
- How it compares to the previous version
- What happens next
- Related information
Why we made changes
Changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012 challenged our ability to protect fish and fish habitat.
Canadians, including Indigenous peoples as well as industry and environmental groups, expressed concerns with these changes and how they were made and implemented.
As part of the Government of Canada’s Review of Environmental and Regulatory Processes, we committed to reviewing the 2012 changes to the Act. We looked at how to:
- restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards
- provide better certainty for industry
- advance reconciliation with Indigenous people
- ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources
- make sure that the Fisheries Act provides strong and meaningful protection for our fish and waters
The new Fisheries Act improves the protection of our fisheries and their ecosystems. The Act:
- reinstates lost protections by providing comprehensive protection for all fish and fish habitat
- restores the previous prohibition against the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat
- provides for strengthening the role of Indigenous peoples in project reviews, monitoring and policy development as part of early steps to advance reconciliation
- recognizes that decisions can be guided by principles of sustainability, precaution and ecosystem management
- promotes restoration of degraded habitat and rebuilding of depleted fish stocks
- allows for the better management of large and small projects impacting fish and fish habitat through a new permitting framework and codes of practice
- creates new fisheries management tools to enhance the protection of fish and ecosystems
- strengthens marine refuges to ensure the long-term protection of biodiversity
- helps ensure that the economic benefits of fishing remain with the licence holders and their community by providing clear ability to enshrine current inshore fisheries policies into regulations
- phases out the practice of keeping whales and other cetaceans in captivity for display purposes, while providing exceptions for rescue and rehabilitation
- prohibits shark finning, as well as the import and export, or attempted import or export of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the carcass
How it compares to the previous version
Restoring lost protections
Before 2012, the Fisheries Act provided broad protection for fish and fish habitat throughout Canada. In 2012, changes were made so that only fish and habitat related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery were protected.
The modernized Fisheries Act sees lost protections restored, resulting in full protection for all fish and fish habitat.
|Before Bill C-68||New Fisheries Act|
|Not all fish and fish habitat protected. Only those related to a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery protected
Fish habitats protected only when there is ‘serious harm to fish’
|Protection of all fish and fish habitat
Protection against the ‘death of fish, other than by fishing’ and the ‘harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat’
The modernized Act also includes new, modern safeguards, making it stronger than ever.
|Before Bill C-68||New Fisheries Act|
|No explicit reference to consideration of the rights of Indigenous peoples and their unique knowledge to inform decision making||Provided Indigenous traditional knowledge must inform habitat decisions
Requirement to consider adverse effects of decisions on the rights of Indigenous peoples
Protection for Indigenous knowledge when provided in confidence to the Minister
|Ability to enter into certain agreements restricted to provinces and territories only||Added ability to enter into agreements with Indigenous governing bodies and any body established under a land claims agreement, as well as provinces and territories|
|No specific provisions regarding the independence of inshore licence holders||Provisions recognizing social, economic and cultural factors, as well as the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries, can be taken into consideration in decision making
Provisions providing clear regulatory authorities to support independent inshore licence holders
|No tools to quickly implement in-season fisheries restrictions to address unforeseen conservation and management issues||Ability to put in place targeted short-term measures to quickly and effectively respond to unforeseen threats to the management of fisheries and to the conservation of fish|
|Uncertainty as to when authorizations are required for development projects||Ability to develop codes of practice and regulations that clarify when projects require authorizations|
|Lack of transparency regarding authorization decisions for projects. No requirement to publicly release information on these decisions||Requirement to publicly release information on project decisions through an online registry
This requirement will formally come into force in 2020
|No provisions specifically designed to protect marine biodiversity||Ability to create long-term area-based restrictions on fishing activities to protect marine biodiversity|
|No specific provisions to address whales in captivity||A prohibition on fishing for cetaceans (such as whales) with the intent to take them into captivity unless authorized by the Minister in circumstances where the animal is injured, in distress or in need of care|
|No specific provisions banning shark finning||Clear prohibitions against the import and export, or attempted import or export of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the carcass|
|No legal requirements related to rebuilding fish stocks||Minister must implement measures to maintain major fish stocks listed in regulation at levels needed to promote sustainability, and must develop and implement rebuilding plans for major stocks listed in regulation that are depleted
Authority to develop regulations respecting the rebuilding of fish stocks
|No ability to address Fisheries Act offences outside of courts||Ability to address Fisheries Act offences outside of courts using alternative measures agreements, which reduces costs and repeat offences|
|No provisions providing for the consideration of restoring degraded habitat as part of decision-making||Provisions to consider restoration priorities as part of decision-making, including within Ecologically Significant Areas|
|Limited authority and flexibility to establish and protect fish and fish habitats within an Ecologically Significant Area||Clearer, stronger and easier rules to establish and manage Ecologically Significant Areas, to provide for more robust protections for sensitive, unique, or otherwise important fish habitats|
|Use of an administrative, policy-based approach to provide for proponent-led fish and fish habitat banking||Legal framework established to enshrine this policy approach into law to provide for and encourage the use of habitat banks for offsetting fish and fish habitat losses resulting from projects|
|Ability to set out the water flows needed for fish and fish habitat protection downstream of existing obstructions can only be set out in Ministerial orders||Expanded ability to manage water flows from obstructions through Ministerial regulations|
|No specific authority to make changes to fish or fish habitat authorizations, once issued||Ability to amend, suspend or cancel authorizations to provide for greater flexibility, certainty and transparency|
What happens next
To support the measures aimed at creating full transparency for project decisions, DFO has made available an online Fisheries Act (FA) Registry that contains the Fisheries Act authorizations and includes additional features, such as a searchable geospatial dataset.
While royal assent of Bill C-68 means the modernized Fisheries Act now becomes law, there are still some steps ahead for the Act to be fully implemented.
Provisions within the Act for the protection of fish and fish habitat will officially come into force in the coming months.
- Protecting biodiversity and addressing threats
- Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
- Supporting independent fishers
- Protecting fish and fish habitat
- Better management of projects
- Restoring habitat and rebuilding fish stocks
- Review of Environmental and Regulatory Processes
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