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Legislative and regulatory framework


Legislative and regulatory framework: Overview


Fisheries fall largely under federal jurisdiction, as per the division of powers established in the Constitution Act, 1867. The provinces’ jurisdiction over fisheries relate mostly to ownership of river beds.


Departmental mandate and objectives are outlined in seven primary statutes and seven issue-specific statutes. Recent amendments to the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act have updated the Department’s mandate, as well as the Minister’s responsibilities and powers.*


Five key pieces of legislation with associated regulations to manage Canada’s fisheries.

*Please see Annex A for recent amendments to the Fisheries Act and Annex B for recent amendments to the Oceans Act

Constitutional framework

The Constitution Act, 1867 establishes the division of federal and provincial powers

Unlike many resource-based federal departments, Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages a resource that falls largely under federal jurisdiction

Federal jurisdiction

Provincial and territorial jurisdiction

Shared Jurisdiction

Legislative framework: Overview

The mandate and objectives of Fisheries and Oceans Canada are outlined in seven primary statutes and seven issue-specific statutes.

Seven primary statutes:

Seven issue-specific statutes:

Other Acts of interest:

Legislative framework: Seven primary statutes

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act:

Creates the Department and outlines the general powers and responsibilities of the Minister in relation to: fisheries; harbours; hydrography and marine sciences; and, all policies and programs respecting oceans.

Fisheries Act:

Creates a framework for the Minister to manage and control fisheries and protect and conserve fish and fish habitat; and establishes powers related to fishing licences and leases.

Oceans Act:

Entrusts the Minister with leading integrated oceans management and provides for the powers, duties, and functions of the Minister in relation to Coast Guard and hydrographic services.

Coastal Fisheries Protection Act:

Creates a framework for the Minister to manage access by foreign fishing vessels to Canadian fisheries waters, including the issuance of licences and enforcement of fisheries law on the high seas.

Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act:

Provides the Minister with authority to regulate the use, management and maintenance of recreational or fishing harbours, including collection of fees for the use of those harbours.

Species at Risk Act:

Administered in partnership with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Parks Canada, the Act gives the Minister responsibilities associated with the management of aquatic species at risk.

Canada Shipping Act, 2001:

The Minister of Transport is responsible for this Act, which provides specific powers and authorities to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans related to marine search and rescue, pollution response, and marine communications and traffic services.

Associated regulatory framework

There are five key pieces of legislation which have associated regulations that the Department relies on to manage Canada’s fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.

Fisheries Act:

There are four general groups of regulations under the Fisheries Act: 1) Fisheries administered by the Department; 2) Fisheries administered by Provinces/Territories; 3) Regulations with respect to Indigenous fisheries; and, 4) Regulations with respect to marine mammals.

Oceans Act:

Regulatory instruments made under this Act are primarily various marine protected areas regulations and Ministerial Orders designating interim marine protected areas.

Coastal Fisheries Protection Act:

The Coastal Fisheries Protection Regulations (CFPR) establish the Minister’s power to issue licences authorizing foreign fishing vessels to enter Canadian fisheries waters to engage in specified fisheries- related activities. The CFPR also set out the applicable boarding and inspection procedures.

Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act:

The Fishing and Recreation Harbours Regulations regulate the use, management, and maintenance of certain fishing and recreational harbours in Canada, including setting out fees and charges.

Species at Risk Act:

Examples of regulatory activity under the Act include amending the List of Wildlife Species to the Act and the creation of orders to protect the habitat of at risk species.

Legislative framework: Seven non-primary statutes

Freshwater Fish Marketing Act:

Creates a Crown Corporation, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, for the purpose of marketing and trading in freshwater fish/fish products in and outside Canada and increasing returns to fish harvesters.

Fisheries Improvement Loan Act:

Gives the Minister the power to guarantee fishermen’s loans made for vessels, equipment, shore installations, buildings, or any prescribed (by regulation) development or improvement of a primary fishing enterprise.

Fisheries Development Act:

Provides for the development of the commercial fisheries of Canada. Under this Act, the Minister may undertake projects, including jointly with a Province or a person, for the more efficient exploitation of fishery resources and for the exploration and development of new fishery resources.

Atlantic Fisheries Restructuring Act:

Provides that the Minister may make contributions or loans to fishery enterprises to “facilitate the development of viable Atlantic Fisheries that are competitive and privately-owned through the restructuring of fishery enterprises”.

Great Lakes Fisheries Convention Act:

Implements the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries between Canada and the United States of America. The Convention establishes the Great Lakes Fishery Commission with members from both countries.

Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act:

The Minister of Transport is responsible for this Act, which provides specific powers and authorities to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, through Coast Guard, to manage hazardous or dilapidated vessels on property under the Minister’s responsibility, including the authority to remove or destroy such vessels.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act:

The Minister of Transport, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and Minister of Natural Resources are responsible for this Act, which promotes exploitation and transport of the natural resources of the Arctic.

Annex A: Amendments to the Fisheries Act

In the 42nd Parliament, the Fisheries Act was amended with royal assent of Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence

Amendments to the Fisheries Act:

The Minister has new authorities to:

Annex B: Amendments to the Oceans Act

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