Permitting under the Species at Risk Act

If you want to undertake an activity that affects an aquatic species at risk in a way that is prohibited by SARA, you will need approval from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). An aquatic species is a fish, shellfish, crustacean, marine animal or marine plant. If your activity affects other species at risk, including frogs, seabirds, or freshwater turtles, reptiles and plants, you will need to contact Environment and Climate Change Canada.

To determine where SARA-listed aquatic species or critical habitat occurs, please see DFO's Aquatic Species at Risk Maps (DFO Aquatic Species at Risk Maps coming soon).

SARA prohibitions

The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) contains several prohibitions to protect species listed on Schedule 1 of SARA. Under Sections 32 and 33 of SARA, it is an offence to:

  • kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a species listed under SARA as extirpated, endangered or threatened
  • possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of a species listed under SARA as extirpated, endangered or threatened, or any part or derivative of such an individual
  • damage or destroy the residence of one or more individuals of a listed endangered or threatened species or of a listed extirpated species if a recovery strategy has recommended its reintroduction into the wild in Canada

SARA also contains provisions that prohibit the destruction of any part of the critical habitat of listed aquatic species (section 58(1)). Critical habitat is the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of the species, and is identified and described in the recovery strategy or action plan for that species. Recovery strategies and action plans are available at

The SARA prohibitions do not apply to species listed as Special Concern.

SARA Permitting Conditions

In order to authorize an activity that would otherwise be prohibited under SARA, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must be of the opinion that one of the following conditions is met:

  • the activity is scientific research relating to the conservation of the species and is conducted by qualified persons
  • the activity benefits the species or is required to enhance its chance of survival in the wild
  • or affecting the species is incidental to carrying out the activity (i.e. is not the purpose of the activity)

As well, the Minister must be of the opinion that all three of the following conditions are met:

  1. all reasonable alternatives to the activity that would reduce the impact on the species have been considered and the best solution has been adopted
  2. all feasible measures will be taken to minimize the impact of the activity on the species or its critical habitat or the residences of its individuals
  3. and the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species

Getting approval from DFO

If you are planning to carry out activities that are prohibited under Sections 32, 33, and 58(1) of SARA, and you meet the conditions that are listed above, you will require approval from DFO. Approval can take the form of a SARA Permit, or a Fisheries Act Authorization or fishing licence that contains conditions for the protection of aquatic species at risk.

Construction or development projects near water

If you are undertaking a construction or development project in or near fish habitat that may contain aquatic species at risk, please review DFO's information for Projects Near Water. These projects include:

  • construction, repairs and maintenance of bridges, causeways and culverts
  • activities related to cottage, boating and recreation (e.g., docks, beaches)
  • harbours and marine commercial activities
  • drainage, flooding and erosion control, stormwater and wastewater management
  • water level and flow management

In addition to determining whether your project will impact an aquatic species at risk, DFO will also review your project to determine if your activity can also result in serious harm to fish that are part of or that support a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, in which case your project will also need authorization under the Fisheries Act. If applicable, a Request for Review should be submitted prior to submitting an application for a SARA permit.

Scientific research or other projects affecting species at risk

If your project is scientific research, environmental enhancement, or another project that is not a construction or development project, you will need to apply to the DFO Species at Risk Program for a SARA Permit. These projects include:

  • scientific research on or affecting aquatic species at risk
  • fish survey or monitoring activities (not related to construction or development projects)
  • response, rescue or salvage of threatened or endangered marine animals
  • habitat restoration or enhancement activities (other than offsetting projects associated with authorizations under paragraph 35(2)(b) of the Fisheries Act)

How to apply for a SARA Permit

If you would like to apply for a SARA Permit, an application form and accompanying instructions are available at the following links:

Application form for a SARA Permit - HTML | Word doc, 63.1 KB |  PDF, 48kb

Instructions for completion of application forms - HTML | PDF 161 KB

The permitting process is governed by the Permits Authorizing an Activity Affecting Listed Wildlife Species Regulations, which requires that a decision on a permit application is made within 90 days of an applicant being notified that an application has been received, except in some circumstances. Therefore, you should submit your application form at least 90 days before you plan to begin work. To avoid delays, please provide as much information as possible to demonstrate how your proposed activity meets the conditions described above. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will notify you if additional information is required. Permits will be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the decision whether or not to authorize the activity will take into account, among other things, the impacts of the activity on the survival and recovery of the species.

Additional documents

Here are some additional documents that may be useful for certain projects: