Small Craft Harbours program

Small Craft Harbours is a nationwide program run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). More than 5,000 volunteers assist the program annually. It keeps the harbours that are critical to the fishing industry open and in good repair. The program operates and maintains a national system of harbours to provide commercial fish harvesters and other harbour users with safe and accessible facilities.

About the program

Small craft harbours are crucial to the fishing industry, and by extension, the Canadian culture and economy. As of September 2018, the program is responsible for 1,008 harbours, including 882 fishing harbours and 126 recreational harbours. Together, these harbours represent over 10,000 structures valued at approximately $5.6 billion.

Small Craft Harbours is a decentralized program. The headquarters used to be in Ottawa but now since April 1st, 2018, the headquarters is located in Moncton, New Brunswick.


Our goal is a sustainable national network of safe and accessible harbours that are:

  • fully operated
  • in good working condition
  • managed and maintained by self-sufficient harbour authorities who represent the interests of users and communities


To fulfill its mandate, the program:

  • maintains a network of harbours which are essential to the fishing industry
  • supports harbour authorities in managing the day-to-day operations of commercial fishing harbours
  • transfers the ownership of non-essential harbours and recreational harbours to other levels of government or not-for-profit organizations
    • this allows public access to the transferred facility

Harbour maintenance

The program's primary responsibility is to ensure core fishing harbours are kept open and in good repair. Core harbours references those owned by the DFO that are:

  • managed by harbour authorities
  • critical to the fishing and aquaculture industries

Of the 1008 small craft harbours, 678 are considered to be core harbours with the remaining 330 classified as non-core harbours.


The program aims to transfer ownership of designated harbours to a third party, such as those that are:

  • derelict
  • low activity
  • recreational

This allows us to focus our efforts and investments on harbours that are critical to the fishing industry.


We provide the necessary harbour repairs and environmental cleanup prior to a transfer or a comparable grant to the recipient. To allow public access to the transferred facility, harbours are usually transferred to:

  • other federal departments
  • provinces
  • municipalities
  • not for profit organizations
  • First Nations communities

Municipalities have generally shown the most interest in assuming responsibility for harbour facilities. They are often in the best position to service their communities. The recipient must:

  • pay a small fee
  • maintain public access to the harbour and to its services for a minimum of 5 years

If no interested party is identified as an appropriate candidate for transfer of ownership, then the property can be sold.

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