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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Copper Redhorse in Canada

Special Significance of the Species

The copper redhorse is a Canadian endemic of great scientific and ecological importance. The degree of specialization of its pharyngeal apparatus constitutes an evolutionary peak (Legendre 1964, Jenkins 1970, Eastman 1977, Mongeau et al. 1986, 1992). A lithophilous spawner and specialist benthivore which feeds almost exclusively on molluscs, the copper redhorse presents characteristics similar to those of other species known to be most affected by habitat degradation, especially by siltation (Vachon 2003b). The species appears to be a genuine indicator of the impacts of human activities on the ecosystem.

Because it is rare, not widely known, and currently without great economic value from a sport and commercial fishing perspective, the species is not sought after. Its meat, although appreciated at one time, is no longer sought after. Only certain ethnic communities (Eastern Europeans, Asians) use the congeners of the copper redhorse for food (Pierre Dumont, biologist with the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec, pers. comm.). As the values of our society have evolved, the species has more recently been the focus of study, aimed at assigning it an economic value as a threatened species, by a professor and researcher specializing in human and industrial ecology as well as in environmental management, accounting, auditing and ethics at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Although this figure is approximate and should be considered a minimum, the value of the copper redhorse has been estimated at $25 million (Clapin-Pépin 1997).

At one time considered a simple bottom fish without great value, the negative perceptions of it have over the years gradually given way to a more positive image. The copper redhorse is the poster child for biodiversity in Quebec and is a test case for raising public awareness to the cause of threatened species. A proposed mini hydroelectric generating station in the Chambly rapids was abandoned in 1994 following the interventions of the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec (Dumont et al. 1997). Members of the public, municipalities, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as public institutions have made sustained and concerted efforts to mobilize and implement concrete actions aimed at ensuring the species’ survival and raising public awareness. To date, these initiatives have taken several forms: construction of the Vianney-Legendre fish ladder at Saint-Ours, agreements for the creation of the Pierre-Étienne-Fortin wildlife refuge in the Chambly rapids, various collaborations to facilitate field work as well as projects involving maintaining and rearing the species in captivity, the production of educational brochures, the introduction of a beer, La Rescousse of which a portion of the proceeds from sales is earmarked for threatened species, the presentation of plays for children (Super cuivré) and adults (Moxostoma), and even the publication of a history book for children,L’animal secret (Simard 2001), whose main character is a copper redhorse.

According to the literature, the copper redhorse, like its congeners, were fished and consumed by Aboriginal people and, at least up until the early 19th century, by our predecessors (Mongeau et al. 1986, Branchaud and Jenkins 1999, Courtemanche 2003). Today, the copper redhorse is not sufficiently abundant to be commercially harvested. Moreover, its harvesting has been prohibited in order to protect the species. According to our information, the species is not fished for subsistence and is not used for traditional purposes by Aboriginal communities. There have never been any records of copper redhorse near Aboriginal reserves located in or near its historic range, namely Kanesatake (Lake of Two Mountains), Akwasasne (Lake Saint-François), Kahnawake (St. Lawrence River, Lachine Rapids) and Odanak (Saint-François River) (Pierre Dumont, biologist with the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec, pers. comm.).

Over the past 20 years, much has been learned about the species and, along with the increase in knowledge, there has been a concern to share the expertise developed and to keep the public informed. The copper redhorse has been the subject of many television and radio reports. Articles in various local newspapers and magazines have been devoted to it. Members of the public do not hesitate to contact the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec if they believe they have caught a copper redhorse. Public interest is not only sustained but growing.