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Recovery Strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada (proposed)

2. Recovery

The following goals, objectives and recovery approaches were adapted from the Essex-Erie Recovery Strategy (EERT 2008), which includes the three extant populations of Spotted Gar within the coastal wetlands of Lake Erie.

2.1 Recovery feasibility

The recovery of the Spotted Gar is considered to be both biologically and technically feasible. The following feasibility criteria1 have been met for the species:

1. Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth or population abundance?

Yes. Reproducing populations currently exist within the Canadian range of the species (e.g., Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Bay).

2. Is sufficient habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration?

Yes. Sufficient habitat appears to be present at one or more locations with extant populations.

3. Can significant threats to the species or its habitats be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions?

Yes. Significant threats such as sedimentation and nutrient enrichment, increased levels of turbidity and loss of wetland habitat can be mitigated through established restoration methods.

4. Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective?

Yes. Techniques to reduce identified threats (e.g., Best Management Practices [BMPs] to reduce sedimentation and nutrient enrichment) and restore wetland habitats are well known and proven to be effective.

The effort expended to achieve recovery will not be uniform across all populations. Locations with extirpated or reduced populations may require substantial effort to improve habitat and possibly repatriate populations.

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2.2 Recovery goal

The long-term recovery goal (greater than 20 years) is to protect, enhance and maintain viable Spotted Gar populations within the three coastal wetlands of Lake Erie where extant populations occur.

The present long-term recovery goal is based on current information. If additional extant populations (e.g., East Lake, Hamilton Harbour) of the Spotted Gar are found and/or repatriating an extirpated population is deemed to be feasible, the recovery goal will be revised.

2.3 Population and distribution objective(s)

Over the next five year period, the population and distribution objective is to maintain current distributions and densities of extant populations of Spotted Gar in the three coastal wetlands of Lake Erie (Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Bay and Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA). More quantifiable objectives relating to individual populations are not possible at this time, but will be developed once the necessary sampling and studies have been completed (Refer to the Schedule of Studies in Section 2.7.5 for anticipated timelines). Such knowledge gaps will be addressed by recovery actions given ‘urgent’ priority that are included in the recovery planning approaches.

2.4 Recovery objectives

In support of the long-term goal, the following short/medium-term recovery objectives will be addressed over a 5-10 year period:

  • i. Refine population and distribution objectives;
  • ii. Ensure adequate protection of critical habitat;
  • iii. Determine long-term population and habitat trends;
  • iv. Identify threats, evaluate their relative impacts and implement remedial actions to reduce their effects;
  • v. Enhance efficiency of recovery efforts;
  • vi. Enhance quality and extent of available habitat;
  • vii. Improve overall awareness and appreciation of the Spotted Gar and the coastal wetland habitats that support it; and,
  • viii. Engage landowners, communities and organizations in stewardship actions that minimize/eliminate identified threats to Spotted Gar and its habitat.

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2.5 Approaches recommended to meet recovery objectives

2.5.1 Recovery planning

The overall approaches recommended to meet the recovery objectives have been organized into three categories represented by the following tables: research and monitoring (Table 4); management and coordination (Table 5); and, stewardship, outreach and awareness (Table 6). Each table presents specific steps with a ranking of priority (urgent, necessary, beneficial), a link to the recovery objectives, a listing of the broad approach, a description of the threat addressed, and suggested outcomes or deliverables to measure progress. A narrative following each table is included when further explanation of specific approaches is warranted. Implementation of the following approaches will be accomplished in coordination with the Essex-Erie Recovery Team (EERT) and its associated implementation groups.

Table 4. Recovery planning table for Spotted Gar – research and monitoring
PriorityObjective(s) addressedThreats addressedBroad approach to address threatsRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectivesOutcomes or deliverables (identify measurable targets)
UrgentiAllR1. Background surveys – new/suspected and historic locationsConduct targeted surveys of preferred habitats at Turkey Point, Tremblay Beach wetlands (mouth of the Thames, Lake St. Clair) and Lake Ontario (Bay of Quinte, Hamilton Harbour, East Lake).Will determine the presence/absence of the species at these locations.
Urgenti, iiiAllR2. Background surveys – extant locationsComplete targeted surveys of extant populations.Will determine health, range, abundance, and population demographics and contribute to the identification of critical habitat.
Urgentii, iiiAllR3. Monitoring– populations and habitatEstablish and implement a standardized index population and habitat monitoring program for all extant locations.Will enable assessments of changes in range, abundance, key demographic characters and changes in habitat features, extent and health.
UrgentiiHabitat loss and degradationR4. Research - habitat requirementsDetermine the seasonal habitat needs of all life-stages of the Spotted Gar. These investigations should determine the role that adjacent riparian and terrestrial/semi-aquatic habitat may play in the overall habitat needs of the species.Will assist with refining the identification of critical habitat for Spotted Gar. Will assist with the development of a habitat model.
UrgentivAllR5. Threat evaluation and mitigationConfirm the significance of the threat factors that may be impacting extant populations. Identify the primary causes and take steps to mitigate immediate threats based on severity.Will clarify the severity of specific threats to individual populations and alleviate their impacts.
UrgentiiHabitat loss and degradationR6. Research – home range and habitat useConduct radio-tracking studies to monitor habitat use and determine home range size of individuals in the Lake Erie wetlands.Will assist with refining the identification of critical habitat. 
UrgentivNutrient/ sediment loadingR7. Point source contaminationIdentify point sources of nutrient and sediment inputs and their relative effects.Will assist with the prioritization and direction of on-the-ground recovery efforts. 
UrgentivBarriers to movementR8. Threat evaluation and mitigation – investigate connectivity/ viabilityInvestigate the degree of connectivity between and within Spotted Gar populations (field surveys/research, genetic analysis) as well as population viability.Will help to evaluate the severity of the threat and identify mitigation measures, if appropriate/feasible. Population viability analysis will assist in the identification and refinement of critical habitat. 
NecessaryivFishing pressure (incidental harvest)R9. Threat evaluation and mitigation – incidental harvestEvaluate the impacts of incidental harvest on Spotted Gar populations (e.g., surveys of fishermen).Will help to evaluate the severity of the threat and identify mitigation or enforcement measures, if appropriate. 
Necessaryiv, viAllR10. Assessment of watershed-scale stressorsIn cooperation with the EERT, assess watershed-scale stressors to occupied coastal wetlands.Will identify multiple stressors that may affect Spotted Gar populations. 
NecessaryivSediment/ nutrient loading,R11. Water quality monitoringMeasure sediment and nutrient loads (and possibly other contaminants) emitted from streams that are connected to wetlands occupied by the Spotted Gar.  
NecessaryivHabitat loss and degradationR12. Monitoring and enforcementContinue to monitor, investigate and enforce penalties associated with illegal vegetation removal when it occurs in habitats occupied by the Spotted Gar. To be accomplished in collaboration with the Rondeau Bay Aquatic Vegetation Issues Working Group.Will reduce vegetation removal threats to populations and create awareness that such areas constitute important habitat. 
NecessaryivAllR13. Response of Spotted Gar to wetland management practicesInvestigate the response of the Spotted Gar to wetland management practices (e.g., Phragmites australis control/management, water level management and other habitat alterations).Will help to inform future management practices within wetlands containing Spotted Gar. 
BeneficialivAllR14.Interspecific interactionsInvestigate the relationship between Longnose Gar and Spotted Gar in areas where they coexist.Will determine what impact, if any, the Longnose Gar has on the Spotted Gar. 
BeneficialivExotic speciesR15. Florida Gar risk assessmentConduct a risk assessment on the probability of Florida Gar becoming established in the Great Lakes basin (i.e., within Spotted Gar habitats).Will identify the potential for the Florida Gar to impact Spotted Gar populations. Will assist in determining level of threat to the Spotted Gar. 
BeneficialivClimate changeR16. Threat evaluation – climate changeInvestigate the impacts climate change is having, and will continue to have, on the Spotted Gar and coastal wetland habitats.Will evaluate the impact of climate change and inform appropriate mitigation measures. 

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Background targeted surveys (R1-R2)
Focused efforts are required to determine the Spotted Gar’s current distribution in areas of extant and historical occurrence as well as directed searches to detect new populations in high probability locations (such as Turkey Point, Hamilton Harbour, East Lake). Sampling methods should be standardized at all sites and include a relevant assessment of habitat characteristics. Recent surveys by DFO have indicated that both active (boat electrofishing) and passive (fyke and trap nets) sampling methods were successful in capturing Spotted Gar in southwestern Ontario (Mandrak et al. 2006b).

Monitoring populations and habitat: (R3)
Monitoring populations and habitat will assist with identifying key habitat requirements needed to identify and refine critical habitat, as well as the implementation of strategies to protect known currently occupied and historically occupied habitats. The monitoring program should be designed to allow for quantitative tracking of changes in population abundance and demographics, analyses of habitat use and availability, and changes in these parameters over time (with regard to known threats). It should also have the ability to detect the presence and abundance of exotic species (e.g., fishes and plants), prey species and other top predators such as the Longnose Gar. The fish monitoring protocol should have regard for the methodologies used in background survey work and provide guidance on the time of sampling and the types of biological samples that should be collected (e.g., fin rays, length and weight).

Table 5. Recovery planning table for Spotted Gar – management and coordination
PriorityObjective(s) addressedThreats addressedBroad approach to address threatsRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectivesOutcomes or deliverables (identify measurable targets)
UrgentvAllC1. Coordination with other recovery teams and relevant groupsWork with the EERT and other relevant groups to share knowledge and implement recovery actions.Will combine efficiencies, resources, ensure information dissemination, help prioritize the most urgent actions and allow for a coordinated approach to recovery.
Urgentvi, viiHabitat loss and degradationC2. Municipal planning –involvementEncourage municipalities to protect habitats that are important to the Spotted Gar in their Official Plans and ensure that planning and management agencies are aware of habitats important to the species.Will assist with the recovery of the Spotted Gar and the protection of important Spotted Gar habitat.
Necessaryvi, vii, viiiSediment loading; habitat loss and degradationC3. Relationship building –drainageEstablish good working relationships with drainage supervisors, engineers and contractors to limit the effects of drainage activities on coastal wetland habitats.Will increase the knowledge and understanding of fish habitat needs and may lead to fewer and/or less harmful alterations.
Necessaryiv, viHabitat loss and degradationC4. Guidelines: dredge, fill and vegetation removalEnsure that existing guidelines on reducing, mitigating and restoring areas of dredge, fill and vegetation removal impacts take the needs of the Spotted Gar into account.Will reduce and/or mitigate impacts of dredge, fill, and vegetation removal.
Necessaryv, viiAllC5. Information
sharing-
land use
planning
Encourage responsible agencies/jurisdictions to
integrate recovery team recommendations into
planning documents,
including land management
plans.
Will ensure applicable
agencies have timely
access to the best
information available for integration into planning
and land management approaches and
processes.
 

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Table 6. Recovery planning table for Spotted Gar – stewardship, outreach and awareness
PriorityObjective addressedThreats addressedBroad approach to address threatsRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectivesOutcomes or deliverables (identify measurable targets)
UrgentvAllS1. Collaboration and information sharing*Collaborate with relevant groups, initiatives and recovery teams to address recovery actions of benefit to the Spotted Gar.Will combine efficiencies in addressing common recovery actions, and ensure information is disseminated in a timely, cooperative fashion.
Urgentiv, vi, vii, viiiSediment/ nutrient loading; habitat loss and degradationS2. Stewardship and habitat initiatives*Promote stewardship among landowners, First Nations and other interested parties (e.g., anglers) within watersheds of the occupied coastal wetlands, particularly Rondeau Bay.Will raise community support and awareness of recovery initiatives. Will raise profile of the Spotted Gar and improve awareness of opportunities to improve water quality within coastal wetlands.
Urgentiv, vii, viiiSediment/ nutrient loading; habitat loss and degradationS3. Stewardship -implementation of BMPs*Work with landowners to implement BMPs in areas where they will provide the most benefit. Encourage the completion and implementation of Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) and Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs).Will minimize threats from soil erosion, sedimentation, and nutrient and chemical contamination.
Necessaryvii, viiiAllS4.Communications strategyDevelop and implement a communications strategy that identifies partners, target audiences, approaches, information products, educational and outreach opportunities, stewardship resources and specific BMPs that will assist with the recovery of this species. Should include a focus on awareness of SARA to help ensure compliance with the Act.Will provide a strategic basis for improving public awareness of species at risk and promote ways in which community and public involvement can be most effectively solicited for the recovery of this species.
NecessaryviiiAllS5. Stewardship –financial assistance/ incentives*Facilitate access to funding sources for landowner, First Nations and local community groups engaged in stewardship activities.Will facilitate the implementation of recovery efforts, BMPs associated with water quality improvements, sediment load reduction, etc.
BeneficialviiFishing pressure (incidental harvest)S6. Awareness –incidental harvestProvide a Spotted Gar information package to commercial and possibly recreational fishers. Request avoidance of occupied habitats, and the release and reporting of any Spotted Gar captured.Reduce number of Spotted Gar lost to incidental harvest and build upon monitoring efforts of this species.

*Approaches currently being implemented by an ecosystem-based recovery program.

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Stewardship and habitat initiatives (S2)
Large-scale efforts to improve the habitat quality of occupied coastal wetland habitats will be required at some locations (such as Rondeau Bay). Emphasis should be placed on improving habitat required for juvenile Spotted Gar as it is believed that this life-stage has the most influence on population growth (Ferrara 2001, Young and Koops 2010). It will be necessary to engage landowners, local communities, First Nations and stewardship councils on the issues of Spotted Gar recovery, ecosystem and environmental health, clean water protection, nutrient management, BMPs, stewardship projects and associated financial incentives. Towards this end, the recovery team will work closely with other relevant groups/agencies and the EERT, which is currently involved with stewardship programs directed towards the improvement of coastal wetlands habitats.

Implementation of BMPs (S3)
The implementation of BMPs will be largely facilitated through established programs of the EERT and associated groups such as Stewardship Kent and the Long Point Region Conservation Authority. To be effective, BMPs should be targeted to address the primary threats affecting currently occupied/critical habitat. BMPs implemented will include those relating to the establishment of riparian buffers, soil conservation, septic improvements to prevent nutrient run-off, herd management, nutrient and manure management and tile drainage within watersheds impacting occupied coastal wetlands. Such BMPs result in reductions in erosion and sediment and nutrient loadings into adjacent watercourses, thereby improving water quality. EFPs prioritize BMP implementation at the level of individual farms and are often a pre-requisite for funding programs. For more information on BMPs, see the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs, Best Management Practices Series.

Awareness – incidental harvest (S6)
Although this activity is currently underway (see Section 1.6), additional effort may be warranted. The effectiveness of the awareness program will be monitored and will inform future recovery approaches. Messaging should highlight the value of the Spotted Gar and the important role it plays within local freshwater ecosystems.

2.6 Performance measures

The success of implementing the recommended recovery approaches will be evaluated primarily through routine population (distribution and abundance) and habitat (quality and quantity) surveys and monitoring. During the next five years, quantifiable targets will be established for the Spotted Gar. The recovery strategy will be reviewed in five years to evaluate progress made toward short-term and long-term targets, and the current goals and objectives will be reviewed within an adaptive management planning framework with input from the EERT.

The performance measures to evaluate recovery progress in meeting the recovery objectives are presented in Table 7.

Table 7. Performance measures
Recovery objectivePerformance measures
P1. Refine population and distribution objectives.Refined population and distribution objectives determined by 2015.
P2. Ensure adequate protection of critical habitat.Completion of activities outlined in the Schedule of Studies for the complete identification of critical habitat within the proposed timelines.
Critical habitat protected where identified.
P3. Determine long-term population and habitat trends.Monitoring program established by 2015.
Current distribution and density of Spotted Gar in three extant Great Lakes coastal wetland populations is maintained or enhanced.
P4. Identify threats, evaluate their relative impacts and implement remedial actions to reduce their effects.Relative significance of threats evaluated by 2014.
Initiate implementation of remedial actions to address priority threats by 2015.
P5. Enhance efficiency of recovery efforts.Quantification of BMPs (e.g., number of Nutrient Management Plans and Environmental Farm Plans completed; hectares of riparian zone established) implemented by EERT and other interest groups to address threats within the three occupied Lake Erie coastal wetlands by 2016 (on-going).
P6. Enhance quality and extent of available habitat.Report on habitat improvements as detected by the monitoring program five years after the initial baseline data collected (by 2020).
P7. Improve overall awareness and appreciation of the Spotted Gar and the coastal wetland habitats that support it.Document any changes in public perceptions and support for identified recovery actions through guidance identified in the communications strategy (by 2015).
P8. Engage landowners, communities, First Nations and organizations in stewardship actions that minimize/eliminate identified threats to Spotted Gar and its habitat.Landowners engaged in stewardship actions from 2012-2016.

 

2.7 Critical Habitat

2.7.1 Identification of the Spotted Gar’s critical habitat

The identification of critical habitat for Threatened and Endangered species (on Schedule 1) is a requirement of the SARA. Once identified, SARA includes provisions to prevent the destruction of critical habitat. Critical habitat is defined under section 2(1) of SARA as:

“…the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species”. [s. 2(1)]

SARA defines habitat for aquatic species at risk as:

“… spawning grounds and nursery, rearing, food supply, migration and any other areas on which aquatic species depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes, or areas where aquatic species formerly occurred and have the potential to be reintroduced.” [s. 2(1)]

For the Spotted Gar, critical habitat has been identified to the extent possible, using the best available information. The critical habitat identified in this recovery strategy describes the geospatial areas that contain the habitat necessary for the survival or recovery of the species. The current areas identified may be insufficient to achieve the population and distribution objectives for the species. As such, a schedule of studies has been included to further refine the description of critical habitat (in terms of its biophysical functions/features/attributes as well as its spatial extent) to support its protection.

2.7.2 Information and methods used to identify critical habitat

Using the best available information, critical habitat has been identified using a ‘bounding box’ approach for the three coastal wetlands where the species presently occurs. This approach requires the use of essential functions, features and attributes for each life-stage of the Spotted Gar to identify patches of critical habitat within the ‘bounding box’ which is defined by occupancy data for the species. Life stage habitat information was summarized in chart form using available data and studies referred to in Section 1.4.1 (Habitat and biological needs). The bounding box approach was the most appropriate, given the limited information available for the species and the lack of detailed habitat mapping for these areas. Where habitat information was available (e.g., Ecological Land Classification [ELC], bathymetry data), it was used to inform identification of critical habitat. Specific methods and data used to identify critical habitat (such as the use of ELC) is summarized below (for more detailed information refer to Appendix 2).

Point Pelee National Park: Sampling data for Spotted Gar for the ponds within the park were taken from the studies of Surette (2006), Razavi (2006), A.-M. Cappelli (unpublished data, 2009) and B. Glass (unpublished data, 2009) as well as photographic documentation in 2007 (S. Staton). Pond names were taken from the National Topographic System (NTS) series of maps.

Rondeau Bay: Sampling data for Spotted Gar was taken from the DFO database for the period from 1955 to 2004 as well as the extensive capture (total of 210 specimens) and tracking data from 2007 (B. Glass, unpublished data). Within Rondeau Provincial Park, critical habitat was refined using available ELC data for the park. ELC assesses the distribution and groupings of plant species and attempts to understand them according to ecosystem patterns and processes. It also helps to establish patterns among vegetation, soils, geology, landform and climate, at different scales. Using the factors relating to geology, soils, physiography and vegetation, ELC can be used to map vegetation communities at varying organizational scales (Lee et al. 1998, Lee et al. 2001). Spotted Gar capture locations within the park were compared with the park ELC data (Dobbyn and Pasma, in prep.) to determine the wetland vegetation types used by the species. All areas containing these ELC types were initially included as critical habitat; however, aquatic habitats that were isolated from the waters of the bay were excluded as these areas are inaccessible to Spotted Gar.

Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA: Limited data are available for the Spotted Gar population in Long Point Bay; there are currently 11 records for Spotted Gar in Inner Long Point Bay, the most recent of which is from 2010 (B. Glass, unpublished data). Capture data for Big Creek NWA (connected to Long Point Bay) were taken from one location (L. Bouvier, DFO, pers. comm. 2008).

Critical habitat was identified in these areas using ELC, as the wetland (including marsh, meadow marsh, shallow marsh, common reed, floating-leaved and mixed shallow aquatic, and thicket swamp ELC community classes) and aquatic (less than 2 m depths including open aquatic, submerged shallow aquatic, and open-submerged-floating-leaved, mixed ELC community classes) within Big Creek NWA, Inner Long Point Bay and the mouth of Big Creek.

Population Viability:
Comparisons of the area of critical habitat identified for each population were made with estimates of the spatial requirements for a minimum sustainable population size. The minimum area for population viability (MAPV) for each life-stage of the Spotted Gar was estimated for populations in Canada (refer to Section 2.7.4). The MAPV is defined as the amount of exclusive and suitable habitat required for a demographically sustainable recovery target based on the concept of a minimum viable population size (MVP) (Vélez-Espino et al. 2008). Therefore, the MAPV is a quantitative metric of critical habitat that can assist with the recovery and management of species at risk (Vélez-Espino et al. 2008). The estimated MVP for adult Spotted Gar is approximately 14 000 individuals and the associated MAPV is estimated to be 35 km², given a 15% chance of a catastrophic event occurring per generation and an extinction threshold of 20 individuals (i.e., the adult population size below which the population is considered extinct). (For more information on the MVP and MAPV values for Spotted Gar refer to Young and Koops [2010].)

MAPV values are somewhat precautionary in that they represent the sum of habitat needs calculated for each life-history stage of the Spotted Gar; these figures do not take into account the potential for overlap in the habitat of the various life-history stages and may overestimate the area required to support an MVP. However, since many of these populations occur in areas of degraded habitat (MAPV assumes habitat quality is optimal), areas larger than the MAPV may be required to support an MVP. In addition, for some populations, it is likely that only a portion of the habitat within that identified as the critical habitat extent would meet the functional requirements of the species’ various life-stages.

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2.7.3 Identification of critical habitat: biophysical functions, features and their attributes

There is limited information on the habitat needs for the various life stages of the Spotted Gar. Table 8 summarizes available knowledge on the essential functions, features and attributes for each life-stage (refer to section 1.4.1 Habitat and biological needs for full references). Areas identified as critical habitat must support one or more of these habitat functions.

Table 8. Essential functions, features and attributes of critical habitat for each life-stage of the Spotted Gar*
Life StageFunctionFeature(s)Attribute(s)
Adult and early life stage from Spawn to embryonic (yolk sac or < 17mm TL)Spawning (May to June)
Nursery
Coastal wetlands and connected quiet backwater areas along the north shore of Lake Erie: including interconnected flooded riparian areas and contributing channels.
  • Calm, clear water with little or no flow (e.g. quiet backwaters)
  • Shallow water depths (< 1m deep)
  • Dense submergent and emergent vegetation (e.g., milfoil (Myriophyllum sp.) and curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus))
  • Mixture of sand, silt, clay, or muck substrate
  • underwater structure (e.g., branches)
  • Warm water temperatures (spawning typically occurs from 21 to 26°C; migration to spawning grounds observed at 18°C)
Larvae (Young of Year > 17mm TL)Nursery
Cover
Coastal wetlands and quiet backwater areas along the north shore of Lake Erie: including interconnected flooded riparian areas and contributing channels.
  • Shallow littoral zones (e.g., water depths typically < 1m)
  • Dense submergent and emergent vegetation
  • Mixture of sand, silt , clay or muck substrate
Juvenile [age 1 until sexual maturity (2-3 years males; 3-4 years females)]Feeding
Cover
Coastal wetlands and connected quiet backwater areas along the north shore of Lake Erie: including interconnected flooded riparian areas and contributing channels..
  • No published information, but assumed to be the same as young of year and adults
Adult [from onset of sexual maturity (2-3 yrs for males; 3-4 years for females) and older]Feeding
Cover
Migration
Coastal wetlands and connected quiet backwater areas along the north shore of Lake Erie: including interconnected flooded riparian areas and contributing channels.
  • Calm, clear water with little or no flow (e.g. quiet backwater areas)
  • Shallow water depths (typically 0.23 to 2.6m)
  • Dense submergent and emergent vegetation (e.g. water lily (Nuphar sp.), cattails (Typha sp.), Canada waterweed (Elodea canadensis), pondweed (Potamogeton sp.), stonewort (Chara sp.), milfoil, water celery (Vallisneria sp.) and hornwort (Ceratophyllum sp.)
  • Mixture of sand, silt, clay or muck substrate
  • Underwater structure (e.g. branches)
  • warm water temperature (ranging from 11.4 to 31.3°C with an average being 22.6°C (± 0.19)
  • Adequate supply of prey species (e.g. minnows (Cyprinidae) and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens)

*where known or supported by existing data

Studies to further refine knowledge on the essential functions, features and attributes for various life-stages of the Spotted Gar are described in Section 2.7.5 (Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat).

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2.7.4 Identification of critical habitat: geospatial

Using the best available information, critical habitat has been identified for Spotted Gar populations in the following areas:

1. Point Pelee National Park,
2. Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA; and
3. Rondeau Bay.

Areas of critical habitat identified at these locations may overlap with critical habitat identified for other co-occurring species at risk (e.g., Lake Chubsucker in Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Bay and Long Point Bay); however, the specific habitat requirements within these areas may vary by species.

The areas delineated on the following maps (Figures 6-8) represent the area within which critical habitat is found or extent of critical habitat for the above-mentioned populations that can be identified at this time. Using the ‘bounding box’ approach, critical habitat is not comprised of all areas within the identified boundaries, but only those areas where the specified biophysical features/attributes occur (refer to Table 8). Note that permanent anthropogenic structures that are present within the delineated areas (e.g., boardwalks, marinas, pumping stations) are specifically excluded; it is understood that maintenance or replacement of these features may be required at times. Brief explanations for the areas identified as critical habitat is provided for each of the 3 areas below.

Point Pelee National Park: The ponds within Point Pelee National Park, including Redhead Pond, Lake Pond, East Cranberry Pond, West Cranberry Pond and Harrison Pond, are identified as critical habitat. However, the watercraft passage between Harrison and Lake ponds known as Thiessen Channel (Figure 6) is excluded from this critical habitat description because it has been highly managed (modified and maintained) since at least 1922 to allow for watercraft passage from the western boundary of the marsh into Lake Pond and the other connecting ponds (Battin and Nelson 1978).

Figure 6. Critical habitat identified for Spotted Gar within Point Pelee National Park

Boundaries within which critical habitat for the spotted gar is found in Point Pelee National Park (see long description below).

Description of Figure 6

Figure 6 is captioned “Critical habitat identified for spotted gar within Point Pelee National Park”. The figure is a map of Point Pelee National Park with critical habitat identified. These areas include Lake Pond, Redhead Pond, Cranberry Pond and areas within Harrison Pond. Individual data points for capture of spotted gar (1949–1983; 2003–2009) are shown as well as sites for Ontario fish sampling (1949–2005). An inset illustrates the geographical location of the map on a larger scale map of Ontario. A legend and scale are provided.

 

Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA: Big Creek NWA, the area around Inner Long Point Bay and the mouth of Big Creek (Figure 7) are included as critical habitat. The interior diked cell within Big Creek NWA where Spotted Gar have not been detected has been excluded (the diked cell is not accessible to Spotted Gar). The extent of critical habitat includes all contiguous waters and wetlands, excluding permanently dry areas, from the causeway west to and including all of Big Creek NWA, except habitat contained within the interior diked cell within the NWA, and including Big Creek proper and all contiguous wetlands to the north of Big Creek. Within Inner Long Point Bay, critical habitat extends north to the pier at Port Rowan and south, down to, but not including, the dredged channels of the marina complex (see Figure 7).

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Figure 7. Critical habitat identified in Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA for the Spotted Gar

Boundaries within which critical habitat for the spotted gar is found in Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA (see long description below).

Description of Figure 7

Figure 7 is captioned “Critical habitat identified in Long Point Bay/Big Creek National Wildlife Area for the spotted gar”. The figure is a map of the Long Point Bay/Big Creek National Wildlife Area with critical habitat identified. There is a large area of critical habitat identified in the Big Creek National Wildlife area, with the interior diked cell excluded. The critical habitat extends into Inner Long Point Bay, stretching along the shore to Port Rowan. Individual data points for capture of spotted gar (1947–2004) are shown as well as sites for Ontario fish distribution sampling (1846–2007). An inset illustrates the geographical location of the map on a larger scale map of the north shore of Lake Erie. A legend and scale are provided.

 

Rondeau Bay: Critical habitat for Spotted Gar is currently identified as the waters and wetland areas (including seasonally flooded wetlands) of the entire bay (Figure 8). This includes the mouths of tributaries flowing into the bay, upstream to the point where a defined stream channel is observed. Within Rondeau Provincial Park, aquatic habitats that were isolated from the waters of the bay were excluded as these areas are inaccessible to Spotted Gar. In particular, the areas identified as wetlands to the east of Marsh Trail actually contain large sections of upland terrestrial habitats that isolate interior wetland pockets (i.e., sloughs) (S. Dobbyn, OMNR, pers. comm. 2009). Approximately half of the identified critical habitat extent lies within Rondeau Provincial Park.

Figure 8. Critical habitat identified for the Spotted Gar within Rondeau Bay

Boundaries within which critical habitat for the spotted gar is found in Rondeau Bay (see long description below).

Description of Figure 8

Figure 8 is captioned “Critical habitat identified for the spotted gar within Rondeau Bay”. The figure is a map of Rondeau Bay with critical habitat identified. Critical habitat is shown to include the entire bay. Individual data points for capture of spotted gar (1955–2007) are shown as well as sites for Ontario fish distribution sampling (1846–2008). An inset illustrates the geographical location of the map on a larger scale map of the north shore of Lake Erie. A legend and scale are provided.

 

The identification of critical habitat within Point Pelee National Park, Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA and Rondeau Bay ensures that currently occupied habitat supporting Spotted Gar is protected, until such time as critical habitat for the species is further refined according to the schedule of studies laid out in Section 2.7.5. The recovery team recommends to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans that these areas are necessary to achieve the identified survival and recovery objectives. The schedule of studies outlines activities necessary to refine the current critical habitat descriptions at confirmed extant locations, but will also apply to new locations should new locations with established populations be confirmed (e.g., East Lake, Hamilton Harbour). Critical habitat descriptions will be refined as additional information becomes available to support the population and distribution objectives.

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2.7.4.1 Population Viability

In Table 9, comparisons were made with the extent of critical habitat identified for each population relative to the estimated minimum area for population viability (MAPV). It should be noted that for some populations, it is likely that only a portion of the habitat within that identified as the critical habitat would meet the functional habitat requirements of the species’ various life-stages. In addition, since these populations occur in areas of degraded habitat (MAPV assumes habitat quality is optimal), areas larger than the MAPV may be required to support an MVP. Future studies may help quantify the amount and quality of available habitat within critical habitats for all populations; such information, along with the verification of the MAPV model, will allow greater certainty for the determination of population viability. As such, the results in Table 9 are preliminary and should be interpreted with caution.

Table 9. Comparison of the area of critical habitat identified (km²) for each Spotted Gar population, relative to the estimated minimum area for population viability (MAPV)*
PopulationArea of critical habitat identified (km²)MAPV (km²)MAPV achieved (Yes/No)
Point Pelee National Park2.235No
Long Point Bay/Big Creek NWA7.735No
Rondeau Bay (including Rondeau Provincial Park)3735Yes

* The MAPV estimation is based on modeling approaches described above.

2.7.5 Schedule of studies to identify/refine critical habitat

This recovery strategy includes an identification of critical habitat to the extent possible, based on the best available information. Further studies are required to refine critical habitat identified for the Spotted Gar to support the population and distribution objectives for the species. The activities listed in Table 10 are not exhaustive and it is likely that the process of investigating these actions may identify additional knowledge gaps that will need to be addressed.

Table 10. Schedule of studies to identify/refine critical habitat for the Spotted Gar
Description of activityRationaleApproximate timeline
Conduct studies to determine the habitat requirements for each life-stage of the Spotted Gar (in particular the habitat requirements of yolk-sac stage, YOY and juveniles).There is no published information on the habitat requirements for juvenile Spotted Gar. Determining the habitat requirements for each life-stage will ensure that all necessary features and attributes of critical habitat for this species will be identified.2013-2015
Survey and map habitat quality and quantity within historical and current sites, as well as sites adjacent to currently occupied habitat.Strengthen confidence in data used to determine if sites meet the criteria for critical habitat; assist in refining the spatial boundaries of critical habitat.2013-2015
Conduct additional species surveys to fill in distribution gaps, and to aid in determining population connectivity.Additional populations and corresponding critical habitat may be required to meet the population and distribution objectives.2013-2015
Create a population-habitat supply model for each life-stage.Will aid in developing recovery targets and determining the quantity of critical habitat required by each life-stage to meet these targets.2015-2017
Based on information gathered, review population and distribution goals. Determine amount and configuration of critical habitat required to achieve goal if adequate information exists. Validate model.Revision of recovery targets may be required to ensure that they are achievable and defensible; Will allow further refinement of critical habitat description (spatial and biophysical attributes).2015-2017

Activities identified in this schedule of studies will be carried out through collaboration between DFO, PCA, EC-CWS, the EERT, First Nations and other relevant groups and land managers. Note that many of the individual recovery approaches will address some of the information requirements listed above.

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2.7.6 Examples of activities likely to result in destruction of critical habitat

The definition of destruction is interpreted in the following manner:

Destruction of critical habitat would result if any part of the critical habitat were degraded, either permanently or temporarily, such that it would not serve its function when needed by the species. Destruction may result from single or multiple activities at one point in time or from cumulative effects of one or more activities over time.”

Under SARA, critical habitat must be legally protected from destruction once it is identified. This will be accomplished through a s.58 Order, which will prohibit the destruction of the identified critical habitat.


The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all interested Canadians to submit comments on the potential use of a s.58 Order to protect the critical habitat of the Spotted Gar as soon as possible. Please note that, pursuant to s.58, any such Order must be operational within 180 days of the posting of the final version of the Recovery Strategy, or Action Plan, that identifies critical habitat.

Activities that increase siltation/turbidity levels and/or result in the removal of excessive amounts of native aquatic vegetation can negatively impact Spotted Gar habitat. However, in areas where nutrient loading has resulted in the extreme overgrowth of aquatic vegetation, small-scale vegetation removal may benefit the species. In these situations, dependent on site-specific reviews, small-scale vegetation removal projects using approved chemical and/or physical means may be allowed. Appendix 3 provides additional guidance on vegetation removal.

Without appropriate mitigation, direct destruction of habitat may result from work or activities such as those identified in Table 11.

The activities described in this table are neither exhaustive nor exclusive and have been guided by the General Threats described in Section 1.5 of the recovery strategy for the species. The absence of a specific human activity does not preclude, or fetter the department’s ability to regulate it pursuant to SARA. Furthermore, the inclusion of an activity does not result in its automatic prohibition since it is destruction of critical habitat (CH) that is prohibited. Since habitat use is often temporal in nature, every activity is assessed on a case-by-case basis and site-specific mitigation is applied where it is reliable and available. In every case, where information is available, thresholds and limits are associated with attributes to better inform management and regulatory decision-making. However, in many cases the knowledge of a species and its CH may be lacking and in particular, information associated with a species or habitat tolerance threshold to disturbances from anthropogenic activities, is not available and must be acquired.

Table 11. Human activities likely to result in the destruction of critical habitat for Spotted Gar. The pathway of effect for each activity is provided as well as the potential links to the biophysical functions, features and attributes of critical habitat.
ActivityEffect - pathwayFunction affectedFeature affectedAttribute affected
Habitat modifications:
Dredging
Grading
Excavation
Structure removal (e.g., log salvage, etc.)
Changes in bathymetry and shoreline morphology caused by dredging and near-shore grading and excavation can remove (or cover) preferred substrates, change water depths, change flow patterns potentially affecting turbidity, nutrient levels, water temperatures, and migration.
Removal of in-water structure can remove cover and affect feeding success and spawning.
Spawning
Nursery
Feeding
Cover
Migration
Coastal wetlands and connected quiet backwater areas along the north shore of Lake Erie: including interconnected flooded riparian areas and contributing channels.
  • Calm, clear water with little or no flow (e.g. quiet backwaters)
  • Shallow water depths (< 1m deep)
  • Dense submergent and emergent vegetation (e.g., milfoil (Myriophyllum sp.) and curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus))
  • Mixture of sand, silt, clay, or muck substrate
  • underwater structure (e.g., branches, cover)
  • Warm water temperatures (spawning typically occurs from 21 to 26°C; migration to spawning grounds observed at 18°C)
  • Adequate supply of prey species (e.g. minnows (Cyprinidae) and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens))
Habitat modifications:
Placement of material or structures in water (e.g., groynes, piers, infilling, partial infills, jetties, etc.);
Shoreline hardening
Placing material or structures in water reduces habitat availability (e.g., the footprint of the infill or structure is lost). Placement of fill can cover preferred substrates, aquatic vegetation and underwater structure.
Changing shoreline morphology can result in altered flow patterns, change sediment depositional areas, cause erosion, and alter turbidity levels. These changes can affect aquatic plant growth and cause changes to nutrient levels, and may affect fish movements.
Hardening of shorelines can reduce organic inputs into the water and alter water temperatures potentially affecting the availability of prey for this species.
All (same as above)All (same as above)All (same as above)

Habitat modifications:
Water extraction or draining of wetlands (e.g., ditching, channelization and dyking);

Change in timing, duration and frequency of flow

Water extraction can reduce the availability of wetland habitats. Draining wetlands can reduce the availability of habitat used various life stages of this species. Water depths can be reduced, affecting aquatic plant growth, underwater structure that would provide cover and water temperatures. Organic inputs from drained wetlands could be reduced potentially affecting the availability of prey.
Works associated with the draining of wetlands (e.g., ditching, channelization and dyking) can cause increased turbidity levels and alter flows.
Altered flow patterns can affect sediment deposition (e.g., changing preferred substrates), availability of flooded vegetation during spawn, turbidity and nutrient levels.
All (same as above)All (same as above)All (same as above)
Habitat modifications:
Unfettered livestock access to waterbodies
When livestock have unfettered access to waterbodies damage or loss of riparian and aquatic vegetation can occur. Resulting damage to shorelines, banks and watercourse bottoms can cause increased erosion and sedimentation, affecting turbidity and water temperatures.
Such access can also increase organic nutrient inputs into the water causing nutrient loading and potentially affecting aquatic plant growth, promoting algal blooms and decreasing prey abundance.
Spawning
Nursery
Feeding
Cover
All (same as above)
  • All (same as above)
Aquatic and riparian vegetation removal:
Vegetation clearing (mechanical and chemical removal)
Removal of aquatic or riparian vegetation required by the species to spawn and for cover can negatively affect recruitment and predation success. Plant die-off following chemical treatments and the removal of plant material can also negatively impact water quality, affect turbidity and water temperatures.All (same as above)All (same as above)
  • All (same as above)
Turbidity and sediment loading:
Work in or around water with improper sediment and erosion control (e.g., use of industrial equipment, cleaning or maintenance of bridges or other structures, etc.)
Improper sediment and erosion control or inadequate mitigation can cause increased turbidity levels, potentially reducing feeding success or prey availability, impacting the growth of aquatic vegetation and possibly excluding fish from habitat due to physiological impacts of sediment in the water (e.g., gill irritation).Spawning
Nursery
Feeding
Cover
Migration
All (same as above)
  • All (same as above)
Nutrient loadings:
Over-application of fertilizer and improper nutrient management (e.g., organic debris management, wastewater management, animal waste, septic systems and municipal sewage)
Poor land management practices and improper nutrient management can result in overland runoff and nutrient loading of nearby waterbodies Elevated nutrient levels can cause increased aquatic plant growth changing water temperatures. The availability of prey species can also be affected if prey are sensitive to organic pollution.All (same as above)All (same as above)All (same as above)
Deliberate introduction of exotic speciesFeeding by Common Carp can increase turbidity and uproot aquatic vegetation that Spotted Gar may use for cover.
The presence of Florida Gar may exclude Spotted Gar from preferred habitat and cause increased competition for prey.
Spawning
Nursery
Feeding
Cover
All (same as above)All (same as above)
Barriers to movement:
Dams, weirs and culverts (e.g., fish passage issues)
The installation of structures that restrict fish passage can limit the movement of individuals, fragmenting populations. Flow alterations sometimes associated with these structures can impact habitat availability further (see: Habitat modifications: change in timing, duration and frequency of flow). Barriers can alter water levels upstream and downstream affecting habitat availability.Spawning
Nursery
Feeding
Cover
Migration
All (same as above)All (same as above)

Certain habitat management activities are recognized as being beneficial to the long-term survival and/or recovery of the species and may be allowed when required. Such activities may include the removal or control of exotic aquatic/semi-aquatic vegetation; water level management (including dike maintenance); and habitat restoration activities (e.g., fire management). For example, in NWAs, water levels may be managed and some aquatic vegetation may be removed to maintain hemi-marsh conditions (i.e., 50/50 emergent/open water habitat). Other restoration activities that improve the quality and/or quantity of available wetland habitat for the Spotted Gar may also be considered.

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2.8 Existing and recommended approaches to habitat protection

Habitat of the Spotted Gar receives general protection from works or undertakings under the habitat protection provisions of the federal Fisheries Act. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) also considers the impacts of projects on all listed wildlife species and their critical habitat where it has been identified. During the CEAA review of a project, all adverse effects of the project on a listed species and its critical habitat must be identified. If the project is carried out, measures must be taken that are consistent with applicable recovery strategies or action plans to avoid or lessen those effects (mitigation measures) and to monitor those effects.

Critical habitat for the Spotted Gar located in both Point Pelee National Park and Big Creek NWA will be protected by the prohibition against destruction of critical habitat, pursuant to subsection 58(2) of the SARA, 90 days after the description of critical habitat, as identified in the recovery strategy, is published in the Canada Gazette. This prohibition provides additional protection to that already afforded and available under the Canada National Parks Act and Canada Wildlife Act, respectively, as well as the regulations associated with those statutes. Individuals of listed species at risk populations located on lands and in waters under the administration of the federal government also receive protection under SARA once the species is listed on Schedule 1 of SARA.

Provincially, protection is also afforded under the provincial Planning Act. Planning authorities are required to be “consistent with” the provincial Policy Statement under Section 3 of Ontario’s Planning Act, which prohibits development and site alteration in the habitat of regulated Endangered and Threatened species. Stream-side development in Ontario is managed through floodplain regulations enforced by local conservation authorities. Under the Public Lands Act, a permit may be required for work in the water and along the shore. The Spotted Gar is listed as a Threatened species under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, 2007. Under the Act, the species itself is currently protected, and the habitat of the Spotted Gar will be protected under the general habitat protection provisions of the Act as of June 20, 2013, unless a species-specific habitat regulation is developed by the provincial government at an earlier date.

Existing populations of Spotted Gar in Lake Erie are found in Point Pelee National Park, Rondeau Provincial Park (which represents the eastern portion of the bay only), Long Point Bay (including the NWA), and Big Creek NWA, which affords the species some protection. Currently occupied habitat receives additional protection afforded to NWAs through the Canada Wildlife Act, and provincial parks through the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.

Currently, recommended high priority areas for stewardship include Rondeau Bay watersheds where land use impacts appear to be compromising habitat conditions within the bay.

2.9 Effects on other species

It is conceivable that increased populations of Spotted Gar could result in increased predation of other co-occurring fishes at risk (e.g., Grass Pickerel [Esox americanus vermiculatus], Lake Chubsucker, Pugnose Minnow [Opsopoeodus emiliae], Pugnose Shiner [Notropis anogenus] and Warmouth [Lepomis gulosus]). However, the proposed recovery activities will benefit the environment in general and are expected to have a net positive effect on other sympatric native species. While there is potential for conflicts with other species at risk (aquatic and aquatic-dependent) during recovery implementation, this possibility will be minimized through strong coordination among the various recovery teams and groups/government agencies that may be working on species at risk and habitat management within the coastal wetland areas of Lake Erie. In addition, most stewardship and habitat improvement activities will be implemented through the Essex-Erie recovery initiative, which provides for a high awareness of other recovery programs. DFO, Environment Canada, and PCA recognize that an ecosystem approach to habitat management is necessary to ensure habitat management decisions address the needs of all species at risk within overlapping critical habitat areas (e.g., Least Bittern [Ixobrychus exilis], Spotted Gar, Lake Chubsucker).

2.10 Recommended approach for recovery implementation

This single species document is one component of recovery implementation for co-occurring species at risk found in the same location. The Ontario Freshwater Fish Recovery Team recommends making effective use of resources and reducing costs by coordinating efforts with relevant groups, the EERT and its associated RIGs in the areas where this species exists. The three coastal wetlands of Lake Erie inhabited by Spotted Gar have been identified by the EERT as primary core areas for directing recovery efforts to benefit this species. The EERT and its RIGs include representation from park agencies responsible for the management of these wetland habitats. This overlap of individuals affiliated with these plans will help ensure that recovery actions for the Spotted Gar mesh with existing park management plans. Although Spotted Gar is included in the Sydenham River Recovery Strategy (Dextrase et al. 2003), the original records for this watershed have since been deemed questionable (COSEWIC 2005).

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2.11 Statement on action plans

Action plans are documents that describe the activities designed to achieve the recovery goals and objectives identified in recovery strategies. Under SARA, an action plan provides the detailed recovery planning that supports the strategic direction set out in the recovery strategy for the species. The plan outlines what needs to be done to achieve the recovery goals and objectives identified in the recovery strategy, including the measures to be taken to address the threats and monitor the recovery of the species, as well as the measures to protect critical habitat. Action plans offer an opportunity to involve many interests in working together to find creative solutions to recovery challenges.

One or more action plans relating to this recovery strategy will be produced within five years of the final strategy being posted to the SARA registry.


1 Draft Policy on the Feasibility of Recovery, Species at Risk Act Policy. January 2005.