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Species at Risk Act

Legal Listing consultation workbook

Atlantic cod maritimes population

Atlantic Cod Maritime population (Gadus morhua)

Introductory Information

The Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) strengthens and enhances the Government of Canada’s capacity to protect Canadian wildlife species, subspecies and distinct populations that are at risk of becoming Extinct or Extirpated. The Act applies only to species on the SARA list.

Openness and transparency, including public consultation, is required in making decisions about which species should be included on the SARA list. The process begins with the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessing a species as being at risk.  Upon receipt of these assessments, the Minister of the Environment, in consultation with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans,  has 90 days to report on how he or she intends to respond to the assessment and to the extent possible, provide timelines for action.  Subsequent to the consultative process, a recommendation to the Governor in Council on whether to add certain species to the SARA list or to refer them back to COSEWIC is generated. Once a species is added to the SARA list, specific actions must be taken within specified time periods to help ensure that species’ protection and recovery.

Public Consultation

The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, commonly referred to as the ‘SARA list’. 

The existing SARA list reflects the 233 species the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) had assessed and found to be at risk at the time of the reintroduction of SARA to the House of Commons on October 9th , 2002.

For more information on SARA visit www.sararegistry.gc.ca


COSEWIC comprises experts on wildlife species at risk. Their backgrounds are in the fields of biology, ecology, genetics, aboriginal traditional knowledge and other relevant fields, and they come from various communities, including government, academia, Aboriginal organizations and non-government organizations.

Initially, COSEWIC commissions a Status Report for the evaluation of the conservation status of a species. To be accepted, status reports must be peer-reviewed and approved by a subcommittee of species specialists. In special circumstances assessments can be done on an emergency basis.

COSEWIC then meets to examine the status report, discuss the species and determine whether or not the species is at risk, and if so, assess the level of risk.

For more information on COSEWIC visit the COSEWIC's website

Terms used to define the degree of risk to a species

The degree of risk is categorized according to the terms Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern. A species is assessed by COSEWIC as Extirpated when it is no longer found in the wild in Canada but still exists elsewhere. It is Endangered if it is facing imminent extirpation or extinction. An assessment of Threatened means that the species is likely to become Endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC assesses a species as Special Concern if it may become a Threatened or Endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

New Assessments

Since October 9th, 2002, COSEWIC has assessed or reassessed additional species as being at risk, making them eligible for addition to the SARA list.  Of these, aquatic species are the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and terrestrial species are the responsibility of Environment Canada. Responsibility for species that occur in parks administered by the Parks Canada Agency (both terrestrial and aquatic) is shared between the Parks Canada Agency and either Environment Canada or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

For more information on the Environment Canada consultations please see the SARA Public Registry:


SARA has been designed to conserve Canadian wildlife species and the habitats that support them. Public involvement is integral to the processes of listing species as being at risk and protecting Canadian wildlife. The best way to secure the survival of species at risk and their habitats is through the active participation of all those concerned. As such, your comments on this document will be given serious consideration.

Purpose of the consultation

Having received the COSEWIC assessment of the species’ status, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must provide the Minister of the Environment with a recommendation to the Governor in Council. This recommendation must be one of the following:

  • that the COSEWIC assessment be accepted and the species be added to the SARA list;
  • that the species not be added to the SARA list; or
  • that the species be referred back to COSEWIC for further information or consideration.

The Government of Canada is required to take one of these actions within nine months of the Governor in Council having received the assessment from the Minister of the Environment.

COSEWIC bases its assessments solely on the biological status of each species. However, consultation with Canadians regarding the potential social and economic impacts of the addition of each species to the SARA list will occur before the Government of Canada arrives at informed decisions on listing. Of particular interest in these consultations is the identification of the benefits and costs of adding each of the species to the list relative to the potential impacts on these species and on society of not adding them.

Therefore, before the government makes decisions regarding the SARA list, affected Canadians will have the opportunity to express their views and concerns. This consultation allows those affected to contribute to the government decision-making process.

Role and impact of public consultation

The results of this public consultation are of great relevance to the entire process of listing species at risk. The comments received will be carefully reviewed and evaluated. They will then be documented in a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS). The RIAS is an integral part of the federal regulatory process and is published with all regulatory proposals in the Canada Gazette Part I.

Following initial consultations, a draft Order (an instrument that serves notice of a decision taken by the executive arm of government) proposing to list all or some of the species under consideration will be prepared. This draft Order will be published along with the RIAS in the Canada Gazette Part I for a comment period. Based on the outcome of the comment period, a recommendation to the Governor in Council on whether to add certain species to the SARA list or to refer them back to COSEWIC will be generated.  The final decision will be published in Canada Gazette Part II and on the Public Registry.

Significance of the addition of a species to the SARA list

The protection that comes into effect following the addition of a species to the SARA list depends upon the degree of risk assigned to that species.

Protection for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species

Under the Act, prohibitions protect individuals of Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species. These prohibitions make it an offence to kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a species listed as Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened, or to damage or destroy the residence of one or more individuals (and the critical habitat, if and when identified)  of an Endangered or a Threatened species. The Act also makes it an offence to possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of a species that is Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened or a part or derivative of one.  These prohibitions come into force when a species is listed on Schedule 1 of the SARA.

The focus of protection will be on those species for which the federal government has direct legal authority. The protection will be in force for all listed birds protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and for listed aquatic species. The prohibitions will also apply to all listed species on federal lands.

For all other listed Endangered, Threatened and Extirpated species, the provinces and territories have the responsibility to ensure that they receive adequate protection.

Exceptions to the prohibitions on aquatic species may be authorized by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, provided that the survival or recovery of the species is not jeopardised. The Ministers may enter into agreements or issue permits only for (1) research relating to the conservation of a species or (2) for activities that benefit a listed species or enhance its chances of survival or (3) that incidentally affect a listed species.

Protection for listed species of Special Concern

The prohibitions of SARA for species listed as Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened will not apply to species of Special Concern; however any existing protections and prohibitions, such as those authorized by the Migratory Birds Convention Act or the Canada National Parks Act, continue to be in force.

Recovery strategies and action plans for Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species

The addition of an Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened species to the SARA list triggers the requirement for the preparation of a recovery strategy and action plan which will be the subject of separate consultations.

Recovery strategies will be completed and made available on the SARA Public Registry to allow for public review and comment, within one year for Endangered and within two years for Threatened and Extirpated newly listed species.

Recovery strategies will address the known threats to the species and its habitat. They will identify areas where more research is needed and population objectives that will help ensure the species’ survival or recovery, and will include a statement of the timeframe. Recovery strategies and action plans will identify, to the extent possible, the critical habitat of the species. Action plans will include measures to address threats, help the species recover and protect critical habitat. Measures to implement the recovery strategy will also be identified in the action plan.

Recovery strategies and action plans will be prepared in cooperation with aboriginal organizations, responsible jurisdictions, and relevant management boards directly affected by them. Stakeholders affected by the recovery strategy will also be consulted.

Management plans for Species of Special Concern

For species of Special Concern, management plans will be prepared and made available on the Public Registry within three years of their addition to the SARA list, allowing for public review and comment.  Management plans will include appropriate conservation measures for the species and for its habitat.

Management plans will be prepared in cooperation with aboriginal organizations, responsible jurisdictions, and relevant management boards directly affected by them. Stakeholders affected by the management plan will also be consulted.

Public comments on the addition of species to the SARA list

The species described in this workbook has been assessed or reassessed by COSEWIC as a species at risk, and is being considered for addition to the SARA list. Please complete the survey beginning on page 9 and return in person or by regular mail to the address below. In order to consider your comments, responses are required no later than October 29th, 2004.

Species at Risk Coordination Office
Bedford Institute of Oceanography
P.O. Box 1006
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, NS
B2Y 4A2

Alternatively, please e-mail your comments (with the species name in the subject line) to XMARSARA@mar.dfo-mpo.gc.ca

If you would like more information on the other populations of Atlantic cod and/or wish to provide comments relating to the proposed additions of those populations to the SARA, please  visit the Sara Registry website to access electronic versions of consultation workbooks for those populations.

Your comments will be reviewed and used to consider whether or not to place each species on the SARA list.

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