How do pipeline companies protect fisheries?

Commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries play an important cultural and socio-economic role in the lives of Canadians. Approximately 80,000 Canadians make their living directly from fishing and fishing-related activities. That is why pipeline companies work to protect fish habitat when planning and constructing pipelines that cross water. 

Calum Bonnington is a fisheries biologist with GeoMarine Environmental Consultants, an organization that works with pipeline companies on environmental assessments at and around pipeline watercourse crossings.

“Fish are sensitive to changes in water quality and disturbances to habitat,” Bonnington explained. “They also require special consideration because their habitat is confined to the channel in which they occur, and their ability to move away from construction is limited to either upstream or downstream.”

Conducting an environmental assessment:

environmental assessment

(The graphic above outlines some of the environmental factors studied during an environmental assessment.)

When planning a new project, pipeline companies complete an environmental assessment along the proposed route and its surrounding environment. The assessment helps identify environmental features that must be protected, including fish habitat.

During an environmental assessment, biologists first review existing information about fish species present in a watercourse, Bonnington explained. They then conduct field investigations in and around the proposed crossing area, within the “zone of influence” (upstream and downstream of the crossing). Biologists assess the sensitivity of fish species that are present and the habitat potential for both the existing species as well as for other known species within that system.

“Investigations may need to be carried out over multiple seasons, particularly in those watercourses that experience seasonal flows or have a low-habitat potential and you wish to confirm that they are non-fish bearing,” said Bonnington.

Choosing a pipeline watercourse crossing:

Many factors are considered when choosing the best place for a pipeline to cross water: technical considerations as well as socio-economic and environmental factors must all be considered. In terms of fisheries, Bonnington explained that proposed routes are often adjusted to avoid key spawning or overwintering habitat.

Mitigation efforts during construction:

horizontal directional drilling

Special pipeline-construction methods can help mitigate the impact on fish habitat. For example, a method such as horizontal direction drilling (HDD) can be used (as long as geotechnical conditions are right) to avoid disturbance inside the water.

“Adjusting the timing of construction is also a key method (of mitigation) to ensure construction does not overlap with spawning or migration,” said Bonnington.

Note: Companies also avoid construction during migratory bird nesting periods (PDF).

Continuous improvement

The pipeline industry is using innovative technology (such as HDD), stakeholder consultation and collaboration between companies and with regulators to continuously improve the way pipeline companies protect fisheries and all environmentally-sensitive areas. Commitment to the environment is one way the pipeline industry is working to earn Canadians’ trust.

Read more about environmental protection at watercourse crossings:


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2012, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.