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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

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:

What's new

The new Fisheries Act improves the protection of our fisheries and their ecosystems. The Act:

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’

Modern safeguards

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.

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