Freshwater Fisheries in Canada: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Resources and Their Management

Chapter 3: Management Regimes for Freshwater Fisheries: The Fisheries Act and the Management of Threats to Freshwater Fisheries

Bronwyn E. Keatley, Anne M. Phelps, Amanda K. Winegardner, and Nicholas A. Winfield


Fisheries are important for Canadians. A diverse set of commercial, recreational, and Indigenous fisheries comprise Canada’s inland fisheries, which provide a wealth of benefits to Canadians. Over 83% of fishes caught recreationally in Canada are freshwater species (Walleye Sander vitreus, trout, perch, bass, pike) and freshwater recreational anglers collectively spend approximately 43 million freshwater angler-days per year fishing (DFO 2012, 2019a). Recreational fishing as a whole contributed Can$7.9 billion to the Canadian economy in 2015 (DFO 2019a) and commercial freshwater fisheries had a landed value of $68 million in 2019 (DFO 2020). In addition to the economic benefit of freshwater fisheries and the direct use of fishes as a source of food, fishes, and the habitat that support them provide myriad benefits to humans and ecosystems. These include regulating food webs and nutrient fluxes, connecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, regulating floods, controlling algae and macrophytes, providing opportunities for recreational use, including boating and swimming, as well as cultural, aesthetic, and intrinsic values (Holmlund and Hammer 1999; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

With ~2 million lakes (and ~1 million of those lakes >10 ha), and over 8,500 rivers, Canada has ~37% of the world’s surface freshwaters (Minns et al. 2008; Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada 2010). Despite the importance of freshwater fisheries and the habitat that supports them, continued threats exist from overexploitation, habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, and changes to flow regimes, pollution, as well as interacting factors such as global environmental changes (Schindler 2001; Dudgeon et al. 2006; Chu et al. 2003, 2015). Habitat loss and degradation are the most commonly identified threats to freshwater fishes at risk in Canada (Dextrase and Mandrak 2006; Venter et al. 2006).

In Canada, freshwater fisheries are managed through a combination of federal and provincial authorities. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the federal legislative and policy context governing the management of freshwater fisheries and their habitat. It provides a brief historical perspective on how the current state of shared responsibility came to be, describes the policy regimes that have been applied by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and summarizes the protection afforded to fish and fish habitat via the Fisheries Act and related policies as it currently exists (Figure 1).