Skip booklet index and go to page content

Recovery Strategy for the Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus) in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus) in Canada.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Northern Madtom


About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.

Recovery strategy for the Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus) in Canada


Recommended citation:

Edwards, A.L., A.Y. Laurin, and S.K. Staton. 2012. Recovery Strategy for the Northern Madtom (Noturus stigmosus) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa. viii +42 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

Northern Madtom – © Joseph R. Tomelleri

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement du chat-fou du nord (Noturus stigmosus) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2012. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-1-100-19549-0
Catalogue no. En3-4/49-2012E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


The Northern Madtom is a freshwater fish and is under the responsibility of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species. The Northern Madtom was listed as Endangered under SARA in June 2003. The development of this recovery strategy was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Central and Arctic Region in cooperation and consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, as indicated below. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41).

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or any other party alone. This strategy provides advice to jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved or wish to become involved in the recovery of the species. In the spirit of the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Northern Madtom and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and its overall responsibility for species at risk conservation.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new information. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will report on progress within five years.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the species. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsible jurisdictions

Under the Species at Risk Act, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the responsible jurisdiction for the Northern Madtom. The province of Ontario also cooperated in the production of this recovery strategy.


This document was prepared by Amy L. Edwards (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)), André Y. Laurin (DFO Contractor) and Shawn K. Staton (DFO) on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada would like to thank the following organizations for their support of the Ontario Freshwater Fish Recovery Team in the development of the Northern Madtom recovery strategy: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Essex Region Conservation Authority, Trent University and Upper Thames River Conservation Authority. Mapping was produced by Carolyn Bakelaar (Geographic information system (GIS) Analyst - DFO).

Strategic environmental assessment

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, the purpose of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Northern Madtom. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. Refer to the following sections of the document, in particular: Description of the Species’ Habitat and Biological Needs, Ecological Role, and Limiting Factors; Effects on Other Species; and the Recommended Approaches for Recovery.


SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating[SARA S2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.

Executive summary

The Northern Madtom is a small (132 mm, maximum total length) freshwater catfish recognized by an overall mottled colour pattern with three distinct saddle-shaped markings on the back, located at the front of the dorsal fin, behind the dorsal fin and at the adipose fin. Evidence suggests that the Northern Madtom tolerates a wide range of habitat conditions and can be found in small creeks to large rivers, with clear to turbid water and moderate to swift current over substrates consisting of sand, gravel and rocks, occasionally with silt, detritus and accumulated debris. It is also occasionally associated with macrophytes such as stonewort. The Northern Madtom is native to North America and has a disjunct distribution throughout parts of the Mississippi and western Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair drainages. This species is considered to be rare to extremely rare throughout its range and has a global status rank of G3 (vulnerable); a national status rank of N3 (vulnerable) in the United States; and, a Canadian national status of N1N2 (critically imperilled/imperilled). There are two, possibly three, extant, reproducing populations in Canada: 1. lower Lake St. Clair – Detroit River; 2. Thames River of southwestern Ontario; and, 3. potentially the St. Clair River (a juvenile was caught in 2003, suggesting that reproduction may be occurring). The species was collected from the Sydenham River in 1929 and again in 1975 at separate locations; however, the Northern Madtom has not been recorded since from this system.

The potential threats identified for the Northern Madtom include: siltation, turbidity, nutrient loading, physical habitat loss, toxic compounds, exotic species and climate change. Further investigation on the impacts and effects of these threats on the Northern Madtom is required to inform successful recovery efforts.

This recovery strategy was prepared by members of the Ontario Freshwater Fish Recovery Team and is based, in part, on content from existing ecosystem-based recovery strategies.

The long-term recovery goal (greater than 20 years) is to sustain and enhance the viability of existing populations of Northern Madtom in the Erie-Huron corridor, the Thames River (from Littlejohn Rd. upstream to vicinity of Tate Corners), and the Sydenham River if the species is still present in the system.

The following short-term objectives (5-10 years) have been established to assist with meeting the long-term recovery goal:

  1. Refine population and distribution objectives;
  2. Ensure the protection of critical habitat;
  3. Determine long-term population and habitat trends;
  4. Evaluate and mitigate threats to the species and its habitat;
  5. Determine the feasibility of relocations and captive rearing;
  6. Ensure efficient use of resources (human and fiscal) during recovery planning efforts; and,
  7. Improve awareness of the Northern Madtom and engage the public in the conservation of the species.

The recovery team has identified several approaches necessary to ensure that recovery objectives for the Northern Madtom are met. These approaches have been organized into three categories: 1. Research and Monitoring; 2. Management and Coordination; and, 3. Stewardship, Outreach and Awareness. Implementation of these approaches will be accomplished in coordination with relevant ecosystem-based recovery teams and associated implementation groups.

Using available data, critical habitat has been identified at this time for Northern Madtom populations in the Detroit River and the lower Thames River; additional areas of potential critical habitat within Lake St. Clair will be considered in collaboration with Walpole Island First Nation. Currently, there is insufficient information to identify critical habitat in the St. Clair River. A schedule of studies has been developed that outlines necessary steps to obtain the information to identify critical habitat in the St. Clair River, and to further refine current critical habitat descriptions in the Detroit River and the Thames River. Until critical habitat has been fully identified, the recovery team recommends that currently occupied habitats are habitats in need of conservation.

The recovery team recommends a dual approach to recovery implementation which combines an multi-species, ecosystem-based approach complemented by a single-species approach. The team will accomplish this by working closely with existing ecosystem recovery teams and other relevant organizations to combine efficiencies and share knowledge on recovery initiatives. The recovery strategy will be supported by one or more action plans that will be developed within five years of the final recovery strategy being posted to the public registry. The success of recovery actions will be evaluated through the performance measures provided. The entire recovery strategy will be reported on every five years to evaluate progress and incorporate new information.