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Proposed Recovery Strategy for Vancouver Lamprey

10.  Anticipated Conflicts or Challenges

Vancouver lamprey are currently of little or no economic value, and this is unlikely to change.  By contrast there are other public, private and commercial interests in watersheds in which the species resides.  These interests include forestry, water extraction for industrial and residential use, roads, residential and recreational property development, and recreational fishing, boating, and swimming.  It is possible that mitigating threats to lampreys will conflict with development pressures.  Recovery of the species will therefore benefit from stewardship and specific research over the long-term.  It is important to understand that many of the threats to Vancouver lamprey can be reduced but not eliminated.

10.1  Potential Management Impacts for Other Species

Vancouver lamprey are parasitic and have the potential to affect the abundance of other fish species, including salmonids (Beamish 1982).  Thus, the introduction of this species into other watersheds is not recommended.  No goal of establishing this species in other watersheds has been put forward. 

It is unlikely that recovery efforts aimed at Vancouver lamprey will have a significant negative effect on other fish or wildlife species indigenous to Cowichan or Mesachie lakes and this could be monitored through the trends in abundance of prey species and parasitic scarring rates.  Numeric enhancement of the species is not being recommended, and protection of lamprey habitats will likely benefit other species too.

11.  Recovery Feasibility

Vancouver lamprey have been reported only in Cowichan and Mesachie lakes and they are unlikely to be purposely transplanted elsewhere in BC.  Thus, their population will continue to be limited to a small area.  Indeed, it is this extreme endemism that supports its current status as threatened, and which likely will cause the species to continue to be at some risk.  Recovery actions will be aimed at maintaining or improving current habitat conditions, monitoring the population, and undertaking specific research tasks.  With the support of local governments, local industry and the public, recovery is deemed to be technically and biologically feasible.

As part of the SARA process, the competent minister must determine the feasibility of recovery for each species at risk.  To help standardize these determinations, the current Policy on Recovery Feasibility (Government of Canada 2005) poses four questions, which are to be addressed in each recovery strategy.  These questions are posed and answered here.

  1. Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth rate or population abundance?
  2. Yes.  Vancouver lamprey naturally have a very restricted distribution.  The populations are believed to be self-supporting, although population status is not known. Regardless of population abundance and trends, the species will continue to be at risk due to limited geographic range.

  3. Is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration?
  4. Yes.  Sufficient suitable habitat exists in Cowichan and Mesachie lakes.

  5. Can significant threats to the species or its habitat be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions?
  6. Yes.  Controlling threats to Vancouver lamprey is feasible, but rests more on social than technical considerations.  For example, the primary threats are water management and land use.  Most threats, such as those from excessive water use and land development, can be managed with existing regulations, but will require consultation with stakeholders.

  7. Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective?
  8. Yes.  Special recovery techniques are not required for recovery of Vancouver lamprey.  What is required is effective watershed management and mitigation of current and future threats, which is believed to be entirely feasible.  It should be stressed, however, that Vancouver lamprey will likely always be very restricted in its distribution.  As a result, it will likely always remain at some risk.  Recovery efforts are best concentrated on controlling threats.  There are no significant technical challenges in this regard.

12.  Recommended Approach / Scale for Recovery

This recovery strategy recommends the use of a single species approach (rather than an ecosystem approach) because it addresses a single taxonomic unit.  There are no apparent opportunities to combine recovery efforts for Vancouver lamprey with recovery efforts for other listed species in the immediate area.  There is an opportunity to share information with recovery efforts for the Morrison Creek lamprey, another extreme endemic on Vancouver Island.  In addition, every effort should be made to provide input to other management planning initiatives, actions, or policies. 

Although very little is known about the Vancouver lamprey, it is likely that there is a significant overlap between the types of habitats used by salmonids, especially with regards to spawning.  As such, there may be opportunities to co-ordinate recovery efforts with those of local stewardship groups currently focused on salmonid populations. Efforts to protect salmonid habitats in the Cowichan watershed are likely to help protect lamprey also.

13.  Knowledge Gaps

Basic knowledge exists about the natural history of this species; however, gaps exist with respect to taxonomic status, population demographics, critical habitat, and tolerance to changes in physical habitat.  Less is known about the ecology of Vancouver lamprey, the environmental factors that affect abundance and distribution, and the threats to this species.  Meeting conservation goals will require addressing several knowledge gaps.  The gaps fall into three main categories, as outlined below.

Basic Biology

  • Taxonomic status and phylogenetic relationships,
  • Habitat use and requirements by life stage (e.g., population distribution within the watershed, differential use of particular tributaries),
  • Which habitats are most likely to be limiting,
  • Life history information,
  • Causes of mortality (e.g., temperature, pollutants, predation, bycatch, etc.), and
  • Factors limiting population growth.

Threat Clarification

  • Effects of changes in lake elevation and water quality,
  • Status of key habitats and potential threats to these habitats
  • Trends in prey species abundance and levels of parasitism, and
  • Effect of present and future human activities and prioritization of threats.

Population Abundance and Dynamics

  • Current population abundance of Vancouver lamprey,
  • Natural population fluctuations of Vancouver lamprey,
  • Current and historic trends in abundance, and
  • Effect of demographics on habitat use.

14. Actions Already Complete and/or Underway

Several recovery actions have been completed or initiated.

  1. A variety of scientific investigations have been completed, primarily by R.J. Beamish and co-workers (DFO, Nanaimo):
    1. taxonomic investigations, including some molecular genetics work, and
    2. assessment of the status of Vancouver lamprey.
  2. The species has been protected from capture or retention under the Fisheries Act, Section 5 of the BC Sport Fishing Regulations, 1996.

15. Statement of When Action Plans Will be Completed

One or more Action Plans will be developed within two years of posting the final Recovery Strategy on the SARA public registry. The plans will include descriptions of programs, plus a timeline of programs with estimated budgets, and will encompass a timeframe of at least five years.