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Species at Risk Act- Legal Listing Consultation Workbook, American Eel

Introductory Information

Addition of Species to the Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act

Introductory Information

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) is part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to protect its wild species. The list of species currently protected under SARA is found in Schedule 1 of the Act and is referred to as “the SARA list”.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is responsible for evaluating what species are in danger or “at risk” of disappearing in Canada. They review and assess new species every year and advise the government on which species they feel are at some level of risk.

The Minister of Environment (who is responsible for administering the Act) considers the list of species put forward by COSEWIC and recommends which of these should be added to the SARA list. Once added to the list, SARA gives the government very specific directions on how to protect the species and promote its recovery.  However, the Minister will not decide which species to recommend without consulting the public and stakeholders. This workbook is part of that consultation.


COSEWIC is an independent group of scientists from various communities including universities, government and Aboriginal groups.

Requests for new species to be evaluated by COSEWIC can be made by anyone.   When a request is made, COSEWIC requires that a Status Report be prepared that combines all the relevant scientific, community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge on that species. The Status Report must be reviewed and approved by a subcommittee of species experts before COSEWIC can use it to assess whether the species is at risk.

How “at risk” is this Species?

COSEWIC has several categories to assign a level of risk to a species:

  • “Extinct”, meaning the species no longer exists
  • “Extirpated”, meaning that the species is no longer found in the wild in Canada but still exists in other parts of the world
  • “Endangered”, meaning that the species is facing imminent extirpation or extinction
  • “Threatened”, meaning that the species is likely to become endangered if nothing is done to reverse the factors leading to its extirpation or extinction
  • “Special Concern”, a species that may become threatened or endangered due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

American eel, the subject of this workbook, has been assessed by COSEWIC as “Special Concern”.

How are New Species Added to the SARA list?

Every year, COSEWIC evaluates new species that may be at risk. Once evaluated, and assigned a category, these species are then eligible for addition to the SARA list. COSEWIC provides its assessments to the Minister of Environment who must respond within 90 days indicating a time frame for action by the government. The Minister also presents the COSEWIC assessments to the Governor in Council (GIC) and must report back to the GIC within 9 months with a recommendation on whether or not to add these new species to the SARA list.

Of these new species, the aquatic ones (those found in water) are the responsibility of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans while terrestrial species (those found on land) and birds are the responsibility of Environment Canada. Responsibility for species (both terrestrial and aquatic) that occur in national parks and other lands administered by the Parks Canada Agency is shared between the Parks Canada Agency and either Environment Canada or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The government’s commitment to conserving Canadian species includes public awareness and participation. Therefore, within the coming months, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will be consulting the public on the American eel to help them develop a recommendation to the Minister of Environment and the GIC.

What does Consultation Mean?

The recommendation to the GIC must be one of the following:

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

When COSEWIC assesses a species, it is based on the scientific data at hand. But when the Government of Canada considers this same species for addition to the SARA list, it regards the public’s input to be an important part of their recommendation to the GIC.  Details of consultations being carried out on both terrestrial and aquatic species can be found on a website called the SARA Public Registry which has been set up to contain all SARA related information. You can access this site at: www.sararegistry.gc.ca

This workbook is part of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans commitment to consult with the public on aquatic species being considered for addition to the SARA list. It provides the public with an opportunity to comment and express their views about how this addition might affect their lives and in particular, the costs and benefits to them of adding a particular species to the SARA list versus not adding it.

The results of these public consultations will be carefully considered and documented as part of the Government’s regulatory process leading to the final recommendation to the GIC.

What Happens When a Species is Added to the SARA List?

The Act provides protection to all species on the SARA list. But the level of protection depends on the category of risk assigned to it by COSEWIC. In general there are 2 levels of protection: with prohibitions and without prohibitions.

With Prohibitions

For species listed as Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened, the Act contains rules or “prohibitions” which make it unlawful to kill, harm, harass, capture or take any of these individuals. It is also unlawful to buy, sell or trade them or destroy their homes or critical habitats. These prohibitions come into effect as soon as the species is added to the SARA list. In the case of aquatic species, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans may authorize exceptions to these prohibitions as long as the survival or recovery of the species will not be in jeopardy. Permits for these exceptions may only be granted for the following circumstances:

research relating to the conservation of a species

activities that benefit a listed species or enhance its chances of survival

activities that incidentally affect a listed species.

At the same time as prohibitions come into effect, SARA specifies that a recovery strategy and action plan must be prepared. These documents are to provide details on what the Department will do to promote the recovery of the species. SARA provides specific instructions on what the strategy and action plan must include and specifies that these will be prepared in cooperation with aboriginal groups and others directly affected by the recovery strategy.  Opportunity for consultation on these recovery strategies will be provided through the SARA registry where they will be made available within strict timelines.

To summarize, if a species is added to the SARA list as Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened, prohibitions will apply and recovery strategies and action plans will be completed.

Without prohibitions

For species listed as “Special Concern” (as for the American eel, the subject of this workbook), there are no prohibitions under SARA. However, existing protection from other acts and legislation remains in force. A SARA compliant management plan will be prepared detailing conservation measures for the species and its habitat. This management plan will be completed in cooperation with Aboriginal and other groups affected by the listing and will be available to the public for comment on the SARA public registry.  Therefore, for species added to the SARA list as Special Concern, a SARA compliant management plan will be completed but prohibitions will not apply.

What’s this workbook about?

The species being consulted on in this workbook, American eel, has been assessed by COSEWIC as “Special Concern” and is therefore being considered for addition to the SARA list. This means that a SARA compliant management plan will be prepared if American eel is listed. This is an opportunity to express your views and opinions on having American eel added to the SARA list. 

You can complete the questionnaire beginning on page 14 and return it in person, by regular mail, or by email to one of the addresses below. In order to consider your comments, responses are required no later than March 31, 2007.

Any other comments you have on the potential addition of this species to the SARA list can also be mailed or sent by email to any of the addresses below.  Your comments will be reviewed and used to consider whether or not to place this species on the SARA list.

Central and Arctic Region

SARA Coordinator

Freshwater Institute

Fisheries & Oceans Canada

501 University Avenue

Winnipeg , Manitoba

R3T 2N6  

Email: fwisar@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Fax: 204-983-5192

Toll Free - 1-866-538-1609  


SARA Coordinator

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

P.O. Box 1000, 850 route de la Mer                   

Mont-Joli, Quebec

G5H 3Z4


Fax: 418-775-0542

Toll Free – 1-877-775-0848

Gulf Region

SARA Coordinator

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

343 Université Avenue, P.O. Box 5030

Moncton, New Brunswick

E1C 9B6

Email :GLF-SARA-LEP@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Fax : 506-851-2620

Toll Free – 1-877-807-7272

Maritimes Region

SARA Coordinator

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

1 Challenger Drive,P.O. Box 1006

Dartmouth , Nova Scotia

B2Y 4A2

Email: XMARSARA@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Toll Free – 1-866-891-0771

Newfoundlandand Labrador Region

SARA Coordinator

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Box 5667

St. John'sNewfoundland

A1C 5X1

Email: Osborned@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Fax: 709-772-4583


Max Stanfield

Fisheries and Oceans Canada

200 Kent Street, 13th floor

Ottawa, Ontario

K1A 0E6

email: stanfiem@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Fax: 613-990-9764