Language selection


Fisheries management decision-making


To provide an introductory overview of:

DFO manages over 200 fisheries on three coasts


DFO manages more than 200 fisheries on Canada’s three coasts. Stocks include: Snow Crab, Surfclam and Scallops, Lobster, Mackerel, Shrimp, Arctic Char, Herring, Albacore Tuna, Pacific Salmon, and Pacific hake.

In 2017, the value of commercial landing for groundfish totaled approximately $400 million, $190 million for Pelagic, $3.2 billion for shellfish, and $15 million for other stocks. [See Excel table for exact numbers.]


Type of Fisheries Landing Value
Groundfish 402,539,000
Pelagics 190,208,000
Shellfish 3,189,059,000
Other 15,651,000


The Government of Canada has federal jurisdiction over coastal and inland fisheries, and the Fisheries Act gives the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard authority over fish harvesting decisions. As Minister, you have the authority to determine:

How much is fished

Who gets to fish


How stocks can be fished

Provinces have responsibility for fish processing and have been delegated responsibility for most inland and freshwater fisheries

International responsibilities

The Department also has international fisheries responsibilities – more than 20 per cent of Canada’s fish stocks are managed in cooperation with international counterparts, either through bilateral or multilateral arrangements (see Annex)

Seven regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs); Numerous bilateral agreements; and, Observer / cooperating non- contracting party to others

Impacts on Canadians

Fisheries management decisions have a range of impacts on coastal communities and Canadians as a whole. These include:


Enabling continued prosperity from fish and seafood while supporting a stable and sustainable fishing industry


Ensuring sustainable resource management and conservation objectives grounded in science

Indigenous and Cultural

Advancing reconciliation, supporting Indigenous and Treaty Rights, and working towards collaborative management


Promoting stewardship, public awareness about conservation, and generating important socio-economic benefits for coastal communities

Ministerial decisions for fisheries management

Decisions must adhere to the following principles:
  1. Conservation
  2. Legally-binding agreements 
  3. Indigenous and Treaty Rights
  4. Orderly Management

In practice, many decisions (e.g., management actions, TAC, quota transfers, opening and closures) are sub-delegated to regional authorities (i.e., Regional Directors General). However, Ministerial decisions are required for:

Decision-making is informed by:

Science advice

Peer reviewed science advice on stock status, TAC, and other conservation measures

Socio-economic considerations

Analysis of short- and long-term impacts of fisheries decisions on the fishing industry and reliant communities

Fishery policies

Sustainable Fisheries Framework (see Annex) which includes the precautionary approach

Stakeholder consultations

A broad set of advisory processes involving, Indigenous partners (co-managers), fishing industry participants, the provinces, and relationships with commercial, recreational, and environmental groups

Indigenous and cultural considerations

Indigenous knowledge offered voluntarily, and impacts on coastal

Annual fisheries management cycle

DFO exercises authority over domestic fishing activity and harvest levels

1. Planning

  1. Review of the effectiveness of fishery measures and enforcement against objectives
  2. Quota

2. Consultative Process

3. Pre-season Preparations

4. Fishing season

5. Post-season review

Sample Timelines


Fisheries management decisions are on an annual basis, with different timelines for different stocks:

  • For Pacific Herring Commercial Roe, consultations on the overall management approach and ministerial decisions (e.g., harvest levels) are made in late fall. Notice to harvesters are issued between January and February the following year, before the fishery opens in March. A post season assessment is carried out in May, and science advice for the next season is provided by the Department in September/October.  
  • For Snow Crab, consultations (including North Atlantic Right Whale Roundtables) take place in late fall, with ministerial decisions sought on measures to protect NARW in addition to snow crab harvest levels and allocations. Notice to harvesters are issued between January/February, before the fishery opens in March/April. A post season assessment is carried out in the summer, and science advice for the next season is provided by the Department in September/October.
  • For Atlantic commercial fisheries in general, a typical season begins with science advice in November/December, consultations in January/February, and ministerial decisions on management measures and notice to harvesters in March/April, before fisheries open in Spring. Fisheries close towards the end of summer, and is followed by post season assessments.

*IFMP = Integrated Fisheries Management

Partners and stakeholders

Indigenous and treaty related fishing rights

Annex – Sustainable Fisheries Framework

The Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF) is the foundation for an ecosystem approach to fisheries, which aims to consider the impacts of fishing on all components of the aquatic environment. The SFF consists of various policies and tools:

Annex – Precautionary Approach

Limit Reference Point (LRP)

Upper Stock Reference Point (USR)


The PA framework is presented as a plot with three possible status zones for a fish stock: critical, cautious, and healthy, with status stock on the x-axis and removal rate on the y-axis. The LRP marks the intersection between the critical and cautious zone, while the USR marks the intersection between the cautious and healthy zone. The Removal Reference (in the healthy zone) is the maximum acceptable removal rate for the stock.

Annex – Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs)

*increasingly online as committed in response to the 2016 Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Audit

Annex – International fisheries management

Annex – Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)

Deep Sea RFMOs

Tuna RFMOs

Annex – Types and locations of species

Pelagic Fish (caught near surface)

Groundfish (caught near ocean floor)

Shellfish (caught on ocean floor)

Annex - Main fishing gear types

Fixed gear

Trap or Pot



Mobile gear

Seine Nets

Trawl or Dredge

Date modified: