Species Profile

North Atlantic Right Whale

Scientific Name: Eubalaena glacialis
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Atlantic Ocean
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2013
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: D1
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This long-lived, slowly reproducing whale species was driven nearly to extinction by commercial whaling but has been protected from whaling since 1935. The whales found in Canada are part of a single global population of the species, which is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean. Since 1990, the total population has been increasing at a rate of approximately 2.4% per year. The total population in 2010, including all age classes, was estimated at 468 individuals, of which between 122 and 136 were adult females. The estimated number of mature individuals, after accounting for a male-biased sex ratio among adults, and for a small number of females that are incapable of reproducing, is between 245 and 272. The rate of population growth is lower than would be predicted based on the biology of the species and is limited by ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Although measures have been implemented in both Canada and the United States to lessen ship strikes, they continue to occur and ship traffic is expected to increase significantly within the range of the species in coming decades. Further, adult females appear to be more prone to being struck than males. Limited efforts have also been made to reduce the incidence and severity of entanglements, but these events remain a major cause of injury and mortality.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The Right Whale was considered a single species and designated Endangered in 1980. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 1985 and in April 1990. Split into two species in May 2003 to allow a separate designation of the North Atlantic Right Whale. North Atlantic Right Whale was designated Endangered in May 2003 and November 2013.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Related Species

Species COSEWIC
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SARA
Status
Right Whale Non-active Endangered

Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Other Protection or Status | Recovery Initiatives | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of North Atlantic Right Whale

North Atlantic Right Whale Photo 1
North Atlantic Right Whale Photo 2

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Taxonomy

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Description

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Distribution and Population

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Habitat

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Biology

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Threats

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Protection

Federal Protection

The North Atlantic Right Whale is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

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Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Other Protection or Status

Worldwide, Right Whales are protected under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, implemented by the International Whaling Commission. The North Atlantic Right Whale is classified as Endangered on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Animals and in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters
Status Final posting on SAR registry

Name (Amended) Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Progress and Activities

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

153 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

  • Report on the Progress of Recovery Strategy Implementation for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canadian Waters for the Period 2009-2014 (2016-10-06)

    The North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) was listed as endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. The Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canadian Waters was finalized and published on the Species at Risk Public Registry in 2009, and it identified two critical habitat areas. In 2014, the Recovery Strategy was amended to provide a more detailed description of the features, functions and attributes of the critical habitat. The main threats identified for the North Atlantic Right Whale are vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Additional threats include acoustic disturbance, vessel-based disturbance, habitat degradation and contaminants. The recovery goal for the North Atlantic Right Whale is “to achieve an increasing trend in population abundance over three generations” (60 years). During the time period reported by this Progress Report, the North Atlantic Right Whale population increased from 438 to 522.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canada (2014-10-15)

    North Atlantic Right Whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are large baleen whales that measure ~14 m (± 0.15 SD) and weigh ~30 mt (± 5.4 SD) at maximum size according to standard growth models fitted using necropsy and photogrammetry data. However, Right Whales can reach lengths up to 18 m. Females are ~0.7 m longer than males when sexually mature. Right Whales appear stocky, with broad paddle-like flippers, a large head (~1/4 of their body length) and no dorsal fin. Their wide flukes have a smooth trailing edge separated by a pronounced notch. Most of their body is black although some animals have white on their chin and belly. Large patches of raised epithelial tissue (callosities) are present on the head and chin, above the eyes, behind the blowholes and along the lower lip.
  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis in Canada (2003-12-04)

    The taxonomic status of right whales (genus Eubalaena) worldwide has been the subject of mild controversy for over 20 years. In 2000, the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee, after considering genetic and morphological data, decided to retain the generic name of Eubalaena for right whales, and recognize three species, E. glacialis for the North Atlantic, E. australis for all southern hemisphere right whales, and E. japonica for the North Pacific. Right whales are large, relatively rotund whales, with square chins and a generally black coloration with occasional white belly and chin patches and no dorsal fin. They grow to about 16 m in length, with adult females averaging about 1 m larger than adult males. A strongly arched and narrow rostrum and strongly bowed lower jaws are characteristic of the species. Gray or black thickened patches of skin, called callosities, are found on the rostrum, behind the blowholes, over the eyes, on the corners of the chin, and variably along the lower lips and jaws. The callosity pattern is unique to each whale and is used by researchers to distinguish individual animals. In the field, when seen along the axis of the body, the blow is distinctively V-shaped and can reach 7 m in height.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - North Atlantic Right Whale (2015-01-13)

    This long-lived, slowly reproducing whale species was driven nearly to extinction by commercial whaling but has been protected from whaling since 1935. The whales found in Canada are part of a single global population of the species, which is endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean. Since 1990, the total population has been increasing at a rate of approximately 2.4% per year. The total population in 2010, including all age classes, was estimated at 468 individuals, of which between 122 and 136 were adult females. The estimated number of mature individuals, after accounting for a male-biased sex ratio among adults, and for a small number of females that are incapable of reproducing, is between 245 and 272. The rate of population growth is lower than would be predicted based on the biology of the species and is limited by ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Although measures have been implemented in both Canada and the United States to lessen ship strikes, they continue to occur and ship traffic is expected to increase significantly within the range of the species in coming decades. Further, adult females appear to be more prone to being struck than males. Limited efforts have also been made to reduce the incidence and severity of entanglements, but these events remain a major cause of injury and mortality.
  • Response Statements - North Atlantic Right Whale (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Atlantic Canadian Waters (2014-04-14)

    The North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) is a large (up to 17 metres) whale, generally black in colour with occasional white belly patches and no dorsal fin. Right whales were once common in temperate waters of the Western Atlantic but were seriously depleted by whaling. An accurate population estimate for the species is yet to be calculated. The population of North Atlantic right whales in Atlantic Canadian waters was estimated in 2003 to number about 322 animals; however more recent estimates suggest the current population numbers about 350 animals. North Atlantic right whales are protected and listed under Schedule 1, Part 2 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Action Plans

  • Action Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canada (2021-03-05)

    COVID-19 and the consultations on the listing of species at risk In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the 60-day public comment period on the proposed Action Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis ) in Canada has been extended to 90 days to provide sufficient time for feedback. ---> The North Atlantic Right Whale (hereafter “Right Whale”) is a large migratory whale whose known range extends from coastal waters of Florida to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Historically, whaling reduced the population from its natural levels and while the population has shown some growth in recent years, the estimated number of individuals remains close to 500. The action plan is meant to contribute to the recovery goal for the Right Whale, as set out in the recovery strategy: "To achieve an increasing trend in population abundance over three generations”. The Right Whale was assessed as endangered by COSEWIC in 1980, and it was last reassessed as endangered in 2013. The species was added to Schedule 1 of SARA when that legislation came into force. The "Action Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis ): Fisheries Interactions” was posted as proposed for public comment in 2016. The “Action Plan for the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) in Canada” supersedes the 2016 document. --->
  • Action Plan to Reduce the Impact of Noise on the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) and Other Marine Mammals at Risk in the St. Lawrence Estuary (2020-03-02)

    Four species of marine mammals listed in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act are found in the waters of the St. Lawrence Estuary: the Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas), St. Lawrence Estuary population; the Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), Northwest Atlantic population; the Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Atlantic population; and the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis).

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.
  • Order Extending the Time for the Assessment of the Status of Wildlife Species (2006-06-14)

    The time provided for the assessment of the status of the wildlife species set out in the schedule is extended for 3 years from the day on which section 14 of the Species at Risk Act comes into force.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2013-2014 (2014-10-15)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2013 to September, 2014) from November 24 to November 29, 2013 and from April 27 to May 2, 2014. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 0 Endangered: 23 Threatened: 12 Special Concern: 20 Data Deficient: 0 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 25 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM04 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM05 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM06 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM07 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM08 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM09 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO QUE MM14 2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-18-PNCR-00001), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-06-18)

    The activities involve disentangling whales (including North Atlantic Right Whales, Blue Whale, Northern Bottlenose Whale, Beluga Whale, Fin Whale) , Sea Turtles (including Leatherback Sea Turtles and Loggerhead Sea Turtles), Dolphins and Porpoises from fishing gear and lines. The rescue activities include repeated close approaches at sea in small vessels, physically interacting with an individual for the purpose of securing, detangling, re-floating, freeing the individuals from gears, including fishing weirs, using standard protocols. In addition, activities involving dead animals include collection of biological information and the transfer of the animals to a location where necropsies can be conducted. There will be no tissue sample collection from live animals or tagging of live animals.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-02-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-01)

    Ship surveys are conducted to observe and record marine mammal sightings. Whales are approached to identify individuals using standard photo-identification methods. Pictures are included in the North Atlantic blue whale catalogue and any information on identified individuals is entered in a long-term database. Biopsies are conducted at least once in a whale's lifetime to obtain genetic information and to determine gender and the relatedness of individuals. Biopsies also generate blubber samples, which are used to estimate toxic contaminant loads, hormone levels, and diet determined by fatty acid and stable isotope analysis. Suction cup tags will be attached to individuals to record their underwater movement and behavior in relation to prey. The research goals are to estimate the abundance, survival and reproduction rates, population trends, as other vital parameters of the whales of the St. Lawrence; to study their distribution and movements in order to describe habitat and habitat preferences and to study their contamination levels.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-03-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-04-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-05-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-06-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-07-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-08-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-06-10)

    1) Disentanglement and freeing of marine mammals caught in fishing gear. 2) Deterrence, live capture, transportation, relocation and release of stray marine mammals when they are threatened by human activities or cause public safety issues. 3) Transportation or possession of marine mammal carcasses or body parts within Quebec's geographic boundaries.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM-14-2014), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2014-09-06)

    Ship surveys are conducted to observe and record marine mammal sightings. Whales are approached to identify individuals using standard photo-identification methods. Pictures are included in the North Atlantic blue whale catalogue and any information on identified individuals is entered in a long-term database. Biopsies are conducted at least once in a whale's lifetime to obtain genetic information and to determine gender and the relatedness of individuals. Biopsies also generate blubber samples, which are used to estimate toxic contaminant loads, hormone levels, and diet determined by fatty acid and stable isotope analysis. Suction cup tags will be attached to individuals to record their underwater movement and behavior in relation to prey. The research goals are to estimate the abundance, survival and reproduction rates, population trends, as other vital parameters of the whales of the St. Lawrence; to study their distribution and movements in order to describe habitat and habitat preferences and to study their contamination levels.
  • Explanation for issuing licence(#DFO-QUE-MM02-2015), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2015-06-01)

    Ship surveys will be conducted to observe and record marine mammal sightings. Whales will be approached to identify individuals using standard photo-identification methods. Blue whale pictures are included in the North Atlantic blue whale catalogue and any information on identified individuals is entered in a long-term database. Biopsies are conducted at least once in a whale's lifetime to obtain genetic information and to determine gender and the relatedness of individuals. Biopsies also generate blubber and skin samples, which are used to estimate contaminant loads, hormone levels, and diet determined by fatty acid and stable isotope analysis. Suction cup tags will be attached to individuals to record their underwater movement and behavior in relation to prey. The research goals are to estimate the abundance, survival and reproduction rates, population trends, as other vital parameters of the whales of the St. Lawrence; to study their distribution and movements in order to describe habitat and habitat preferences and to study their contamination levels.
  • >> See more Permits and Related Agreements documents

Consultation Documents

  • Species at Risk Act - Legal listing consultation workbook North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) (2004-05-10)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the North Atlantic Right Whale to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).

Critical Habitat Orders

  • Critical Habitat of the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Order (2016-05-14)

    The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) population as Endangered in May 2003 and November 2013. The assessment was based upon the best available information on the biological status of the population, including scientific knowledge. An “endangered species” is defined under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as a wildlife species that is facing imminent extirpation or extinction.
  • Critical Habitat of the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Order (2017-12-13)

    The Order is made to satisfy the obligation to ensure that the identified critical habitat of the North Atlantic Right Whale is legally protected. With this Order, the North Atlantic Right Whale benefits from the prohibition in subsection 58(1) of SARA against the destruction of any part of its critical habitat. The prohibition applies to anyone undertaking activities in and around the North Atlantic Right Whale’s critical habitat that would result in the destruction of any part of it.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2018-09-28)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year. Original publication of the Recovery Document Posting Plan: 2016-05-02
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