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 Species at risk public registry. 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 email@example.com.
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 Species at risk public registry.
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 Habitat Stewardship Program for Aquatic Species at Risk site.
About the Species at Risk Act and commercial fishing
What species at risk will have the most impact on commercial fisheries?
There are currently over 90 aquatic species listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Of these, several are caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries. These include the leatherback turtle, Inner Bay of Fundy salmon Northern and spotted wolffish. Analysis is being conducted to determine the impact commercial fisheries are having on listed species.
Why is the fishing industry not represented on the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)?
COSEWIC was created as an independent committee of experts that assesses the risk of extinction of species at risk. As such, no groups with an economic interest in the species being assessed are members.
However, the knowledge of groups such as the fishing industry and First Nations are often considered in COSEWIC’s assessments. In fact, COSEWIC’s Terms of Reference declare the importance of local and traditional knowledge in assessing species’ status. COSEWIC is currently establishing an Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee to ensure that this knowledge is adequately summarized in assessments.
It is also important to remember that COSEWIC only conducts scientific assessments of whether certain species should be considered at risk. The federal cabinet then decides whether those species should get legal protection under the Species at Risk Act. These decisions are taken only after consultation with affected stakeholders and other interests.
Is it possible that five years from now COSEWIC might designate the fish I’ve been harvesting as endangered?
COSEWIC’s raison d’être is to identify species at risk, which means its work is ongoing. COSEWIC will continue to meet annually to review status reports on species suspected of being at risk and provide its assessments to government and the public.
While there are no guarantees that a commercial fishery won’t be declared endangered or threatened in future, DFO’s fisheries management plans have built-in conservation measures to help ensure that commercial fisheries will continue to be sustainable and preserve the resource for future generations.
Will the implementation of the Species at Risk Act shut down my fishery?
DFO is committed to conserving aquatic species at risk while also maintaining a sustainable fishing industry. Every effort will be made to work closely and collaboratively with the fishing industry to meet the objectives of the Act while minimizing its impact on fisheries.
While it is too early to know all of the specific impacts SARA will have on individual commercial fisheries, it is safe to assume that there will be changes, particularly in regard to bycatch. DFO will collaborate with fishing industry stakeholders throughout the process as new conservation measures are determined and implemented.
It should be noted that SARA has built-in flexibility. Under certain circumstances, the Minister can issue a permit to allow for “incidental harm” to a listed species, such as the bycatch of a species at risk in a fishery. An Incidental Harm Permit would only be issued if it is determined that the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.
What kind of changes can I expect? Will I have to change the way I fish?
Species at risk will only get the protection they need if Canadians work together to reduce threats. Changes could include restrictions on bycatch of listed species; fishing gear modifications; fishing area closures; fishing season closures; and closures or reductions in traditional fisheries.
These changes will be determined via the recovery strategies and recovery action plans DFO is mandated by SARA to produce for each species listed as endangered or threatened. Recovery strategies for the species currently listed on SARA are being developed in close collaboration with the fishing industry and must be developed within two years of their addition to SARA.
Appropriate conservation measures to protect and recover listed species will also be built into DFO’s fisheries management plans, based on the provisions outlined in the recovery strategies. DFO will work with the fishing industry to ensure that the Act’s objectives are met and conservation measures put in place. Consultations on SARA requirements will be undertaken with the fishing industry.
Will I get compensation for any financial hardship I suffer due to these new prohibitions?
While there is provision under the Act for compensation, it is only offered under extraordinary circumstances. SARA provides authority for the payment of fair and reasonable compensation to persons who have suffered an extraordinary loss from applying the critical habitat prohibitions or applying an emergency order to protect critical habitat. Compensation does not apply to other economic losses resulting from the listing of a species. The procedures for applying for compensation are currently being developed.
I am already harvesting spotted wolffish as bycatch. Is this illegal? Will I be charged?
While there are prohibitions under SARA and individuals can be charged, the Act has built-in flexibility to assist the Minister in protecting species at risk while also maintaining sustainable fishing industries. Bycatch of a listed species may be allowed at a restricted level through an Incidental Harm Permit or under the provisions of a recovery strategy so long as it is determined that the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.
Incidental harm permits have been issued for spotted wolffish. The final recovery strategy for spotted wolffish outlines the conditions under which incidental harm of this species can be permitted. Fishers following its provisions will not be prosecuted if they kill or harm a listed species.
What is an “Incidental Harm Permit” and how can I get one?
Under certain circumstances, the Minister can issue a permit to allow for “incidental harm” to a listed species, such as the bycatch of a listed species by another fishery. An Incidental Harm Permit will only be issued if it is determined that the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.
Incidental Harm Permits will not be automatically granted. DFO must undertake scientific research in consultation with the fishing industry to further understand the impacts of various commercial fisheries on listed species at risk. Before a permit is granted, an applicant must have considered other reasonable alternatives, have taken all feasible measures to minimize the impact and must substantiate that any harm caused by the activity will not jeopardize the species’ survival or recovery.
When permits are issued, explanations will be published in the SARA Public Registry and will be included in DFO fisheries management plans.
Will the fishing industry have a say in the new measures that are implemented as part of the Act?
Without question. SARA will only be successful if government and industry work together. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure we do everything possible to protect and recover these species at risk. The fishing industry will be consulted throughout the process as new management measures are developed and implemented.
How much advance notice will fishers be given of new prohibitions?
Fishing industry stakeholders will be consulted on an ongoing basis as new management measures are developed and implemented.
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