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Recovery strategy for the Nooksack dace in Canada

Photograph of Nooksack Dace © Mike Pearson.
Photo by Mike Pearson.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery Strategy Series

July 2007


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 (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/the_act/) 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 (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/) and the Web site of the Recovery Secretariat (http://www.speciesatrisk.gc.ca/recovery/).

Recovery Strategy for the Nooksack Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) in Canada

July 2007

Recommended citation:

Pearson, M.P., T. Hatfield, J.D. McPhail, J.S. Richardson, J.S. Rosenfeld, H. Schreier, D. Schluter, D.J. Sneep, M. Stejpovic, E.B. Taylor, and P.M. Wood. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Nooksack Dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver. vi + 31 pp.

Additional copies:

You can download additional copies from the SARA Public Registry (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/)

Cover illustration: M. Pearson

Egalement disponible en français sous le titre :

« Programme de rétablissement pour le naseux de Nooksack (Rhinichthys cataractae) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2007. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-0-662-45387-1

Cat. no. En3-4/19-2007E-PDF

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


This final recovery strategy for Nooksack dace has been prepared by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. Fisheries and Oceans Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for Nooksack dace as required by the Species at Risk Act. The British Columbia Ministry of Environment has reviewed and accepts this document as scientific advice.

This document identifies the recovery strategies that are deemed necessary, based on the best available scientific and biological information, to recover Nooksack dace populations in Canada. 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 jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Nooksack dace and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the BC Ministry of Environment will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and its overall responsibility for species at risk conservation. The Minister 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 will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsible jurisdictions

The responsible jurisdiction for Nooksack dace under the Species at Risk Act is Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The Province of British Columbia co-led development of this recovery strategy.


DFO and the Province of British Columbia cooperated in the development of this recovery strategy. A recovery team was assembled to provide science-based recommendations to government with respect to the recovery of Nooksack dace. Members of the Recovery Team for Nooksack Dace are listed below:

Todd Hatfield, Solander Ecological Research (Coordinator)
Don McPhail, University of British Columbia
Mike Pearson, Pearson Ecological (Writer)
John Richardson, University of British Columbia
Jordan Rosenfeld, British Columbia Ministry of Environment (Co-Chair)
Hans Schreier, University of British Columbia
Dolph Schluter, University of British Columbia
Dan Sneep, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Co-Chair)
Marina Stejpovic, Township of Langley
Eric Taylor, University of British Columbia
Paul Wood, University of British Columbia


Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of BC are grateful to the technical experts involved in drafting this strategy, for their time and effort in attending meetings and reviewing the document. Financial support for the development of the recovery strategy was provided by the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Province of British Columbia.

Strategic environmental assessment statement

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.

While this recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of Nooksack dace, some potentially adverse effects on other species were also considered. The strategy calls for the protection, creation, and enhancement of riffle habitat, which could require control of beavers and their dams, and which might eliminate some of the deep pool and marsh habitat of Salish sucker, another species listed as Endangered under SARA. The strategy recommends cooperation with local stewardship groups and agency staff on beaver management, and proposes to address potential conflicts with recovery of Salish sucker by coordinating recovery activities for both species in watersheds where they coexist through the development of a joint Action Plan. The recovery strategy also calls for minimization of impacts of introduced predators, through documenting their occurrence and educating the public on their impacts. Further information on potential interactions with other species is presented in the Recovery section of the document, in particular under the headings Broad Strategies to Reduce Threats and Effects on Other Species. Taking these approaches into account, it was concluded that the benefits of this recovery strategy far outweigh any adverse effects that may result.


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: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/plans/residence_e.cfm


The Nooksack dace is a freshwater fish, under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act(SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered or Threatened species. The Nooksack dace was listed as Endangered under SARA in June 2003. Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Pacific Region co-led the development of this recovery strategy with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. The final strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41). It was developed in cooperation or consultation with:

o The University of British Columbia

o The Township Of Langley

Executive summary


The Nooksack dace is a small (<15 cm) stream-dwelling cyprinid (minnow). It is considered a subspecies of the widespread and common longnose dace Rhinichthys cataractae. Within Canada it is known from four lowland streams in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley. The global distribution includes approximately 20 additional streams in north-west Washington (McPhail 1997). The Nooksack dace is extirpated from some tributaries in Canadian watersheds where it was abundant in the 1960s (McPhail 1997). Its current status in Washington State is unknown.

Nooksack dace are strongly associated with riffle habitats (McPhail 1997) and the proportion of riffle in a reach is the strongest predictor of their presence (Pearson 2004a). Young-of-the-year fish require shallow pool habitats in close proximity to the riffles inhabited by adults (McPhail 1997). Home range size is typically very small (<50 m of channel) although a few individuals venture for at least hundreds of metres (Pearson 2004a). This suggests that clusters of riffles may contain semi-isolated subpopulations and that metapopulation dynamics may be important at the watershed scale (Pearson 2004a).


Nooksack dace populations appear to be most vulnerable to seasonal lack of water, habitat loss to drainage activities, sediment deposition, and riffle loss to beaver ponds. Introduced predators are widespread in the range but probably have minimal impacts on Nooksack dace because of lack of habitat overlap. Hypoxia and toxicity are significant threats in some sections of at least one watershed, but do not threaten the species throughout its range.

Critical Habitat

Attributes of critical habitat for Nooksack dace have been defined but not mapped or designated in this recovery strategy. Potential critical habitat for Nooksack dace consists of reaches in their native creeks that contain or are known to have previously contained more than 10% riffle by length. It includes all aquatic habitat and riparian reserve strips of native vegetation on both banks for the entire length of the reach. Reserve strips should be continuous with width requirements based on reach-scale assessments as described in Pearson (2007: in review through PSARC). A detailed rationale for the definition is included in the main text. A quantity of proposed critical habitat sufficient to ensure the survival and recovery of the species will be designated through the action planning process, which will include socioeconomic analysis and consultation with affected interests. The Recovery Team has compiled scientific data that will provide the basis for an official designation of critical habitat (Pearson 2007, in review through PSARC). Further studies are required to confirm the presence of other Nooksack dace populations and their critical habitats, and to characterize specific threats. Designating critical habitat will contribute to the refinement of recovery objectives and the management of activities that impact the species.


Recovery of Nooksack dace populations is both technically and biologically feasible. It will involve the establishment and/or maintenance of sufficient high quality riffle habitat in each creek to maintain a population. Specific requirements will vary, but will generally include in-stream flow protection, restoration of riffle habitat and, in some circumstances, restriction of beaver impoundment. Some management will be required in all watersheds.

The goal of recovery is:

To ensure long-term viability of Nooksack dace populations throughout their natural distribution in Canada.

The recovery strategy has three objectives, each of which is discussed in detail in the text.

  1. For all currently and historically suitable habitats in native streams to be occupied by 2015.
  2. To increase Nooksack dace abundance to target levels in all watersheds by 2015.
  3. To ensure that at least one reach in each watershed supports a high density of Nooksack dace.

Eight broad strategies have been identified in support of these objectives:

  1. ProtectFootnote 1, create and enhance riffle habitat in habitat reaches with high potential productivity.
  2. Establish or maintain adequate baseflow in all habitats with high potential productivity.
  3. Reduce sediment entry to creeks.
  4. Ensure the integrity and proper functioning of riparian zones throughout watersheds.
  5. Reduce habitat fragmentation.
  6. Encourage stewardship amongst private landowners and the general public.
  7. Minimize toxic contamination of creeks.
  8. Minimize impacts of introduced predators.


Footnote 1

Protection can be achieved through a variety of mechanisms including: voluntary stewardship agreements, conservation covenants, sale by willing vendors on private lands, land use designations, and protected areas

Return to footnote 1 referrer