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Recovery Strategy for the Aurora Trout in Canada [Proposed]

Table 2. Strategies and Approaches for Recovery
PriorityObj. No.Broad ApproachThreat AddressedSpecific StepsAnticipated Effect
Low5(iv)Legislation & PolicyAllReview existing relevant policies and legislation to determine current level of protection afforded to aurora trout and recommend appropriate improvements. Establishes an effective regulatory framework for overall aurora trout conservation.
Low5(iv)Legislation & PolicyAllProvide input and advice on revisions to the provincial aurora trout policy.Updates provincial aurora trout policy that provides strategic direction for the conservation and management of aurora trout and their habitat.
Low5(iv)Legislation & PolicyAllProvide input and advice on existing habitat protection guidelines. Update provincial protection to aurora trout lakes, specifically those lakes containing aurora trout which lie outside of protected areas (i.e. Provincial Parks).
High2ResearchInbreeding Investigate the taxonomy of aurora trout utilizing new genetic procedures and markers.  Molecular data from representative samples from wild and hatchery populations are to be collected from both aurora trout and brook trout.   Newer molecular markers (Nuclear ITS, gene introns) will be used to determine if clear fixed differences exist between aurora trout and brook trout. If fixed differences are apparent this would provide COSEWIC with quantitative supporting evidence for maintaining aurora trout on the legal list of Species at Risk.  If no fixed differences are found using these new techniques (which is consistent with earlier genetic assessments), then there would not be molecular genetic justification for maintaining aurora trout on the legal list and down-listing or de-listing could be considered (or aurora trout could be maintained as a designated population at risk).  Should this research provide evidence for COSEWIC to de-list aurora trout nationally as an endangered species, the province of Ontario would continue to manage aurora trout as a unique element of global biodiversity.  Secondly, it is necessary to determine the taxonomic status of aurora trout prior to considering potential solutions for the infusion of new genetic material.
High2ResearchInbreedingInvestigate potential inbreeding depression as a result of low founding population size by examining available historical genetic material (e.g. tissue, scales, preserved specimens). It has been surmised that the low founding size resulted in lower diversity (and thus reduced fitness) in the current population as compared to populations of the 1940s and 1950s.  Genetic analysis may determine if historical diversity is adequately represented today.  This analysis would also provide information on the current fitness of the stock and may aid in developing potential solutions to address the long-term viability of aurora trout.
Medium2, 3(vi)ResearchInbreedingContinue to assess the extent of potential inbreeding threats through further examination of 2nd generation crosses of aurora trout and Nipigon strain brook trout.  These fish are to be bred and maintained in the hatchery only.  No proposal to stock these fish into the wild would be considered until the taxonomy of aurora trout is clarified.2nd generation experimental crosses would clarify whether inbreeding does exist within the captive bred aurora trout.  In addition, the work would give an indication of the MHC (major histocompatibility complex – the functional genes responsible for immune response capabilities) diversity in aurora trout and whether these genes still have the capability to evolve.
Medium2, 3(vi)ResearchInbreedingIf aurora trout are genetically distinct from brook trout, inbreeding may still be a threat.  To maximize available genetic diversity, efforts need to be directed towards locating the most genetically diverse individuals to develop the best combination of crosses.  An opportunity exists to enhance reproductive fitness of aurora trout without impacts upon the phenotype. This would make best use of the total available genetic diversity in existence in present day aurora trout.  It is very labor intensive, requires a great deal of time and still may not resolve the threat of inbreeding should it exist.   Despite this, it is still the best method of maximizing genetic diversity without compromising the genetic and phenotypic integrity of aurora trout.
Medium2, 3(vi)ResearchInbreedingShould the results of the taxonomic investigation determine that aurora trout are not genetically distinct from brook trout, there exists the opportunity to design an experimental management approach. That is, matched plantings of pure aurora trout vs. aurora trout x brook trout crosses could be bred and followed over two to three generations to compare reproductive fitness.  Initially, these fish would only be held in the hatchery for 2-3 generations, but under this scenario, the fish may be stock in non-native lakes and their fitness compared under field conditions.  The two native lakes would not be part of such an experiment and would always remain with pure aurora trout in them.  The results of this study would allow researchers to determine which strain is more reproductively fit.  As well, it would allow an examination of the benefits and consequences of introducing brook trout genes into aurora trout to enhance the reproductive fitness of aurora trout without compromising the phenotype (i.e. create an aurora trout phenotype that is carrying brook trout genes to increase genetic diversity).   Additional discussions of the ATRT will be required prior to the implementation of this approach.
Medium1, 2 ResearchInbreedingGenetic monitoring needs to occur for both juvenile and adult aurora trout in both native lakes.  Non-lethal genetic samples are required to track genetic diversity across successive generations.This will provide evidence of changes in genetic diversity over time should this be occurring.  It will provide evidence of whether or not the aurora trout populations are still capable of evolutionary change.  This will also allow ties back to individual fish and will allow the establishment of a pedigree.  
High1, 3(iii), 4(iv)Habitat  ManagementAllInvestigate and describe in detail necessary habitat requirements (e.g. spawning habitat) for aurora trout based upon studies within the two native lakes.    Will provide baseline critical habitat knowledge.  This can be used to develop criteria for assessing the potential of non-native lakes for future introductions, thus allowing the establishment of additional secure, self-sustaining populations.
High1, 3(ii), 3(iv)Research; Habitat and Population ManagementAcidificationCritical load modeling will be completed to determine the reductions in atmospheric pollutants that need to be targeted to prevent re-acidification.  Pollutants must be reduced to a level where pH will not be depressed again in the future.  This will eliminate the negative impacts of acidification on aurora trout recruitment.Similar modeling has already been completed for a number of lakes in Killarney Provincial Park.  Reductions in air borne emissions responsible for acid rain will contribute to improved water quality.  This will provide additional information for the Recovery Team and associated Recovery Implementation Group(s) in determining whether future liming will be necessary.  Furthermore, knowing the extent of the required reductions in atmospheric pollutants is necessary background information for MOE in developing operating Certificates of Approval for industry.
High3(iii), 3(iv)Research;  Habitat & Population ManagementFulfills a Knowledge GapNeed to define the characteristics of suitable spawning sites.  It appears that groundwater upwellings are necessary, although little is known about the required flow rates for successful spawning.Groundwater requirements for spawning are necessary for the selection of future candidate lakes for introductions.  Establishing a non-native, self-sustaining, satellite population(s) is desirable for maintaining the future viability of the species.
High3(v), 5(iv)Habitat & Population ManagementAcidificationA Class Environmental Assessment (EA) for Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves is to be completed for Little Whitepine Lake.  This step will require approval from the Superintendent of Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park as current Ontario Parks’ policy generally prohibits the introduction of species that are not native to the receiving waters.  A risk assessment screening as outlined in the National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms will also be required.Completion of the EA allows Little Whitepine Lake to be approved for future stocking.  Little Whitepine Lake is an ideal candidate as it is within the original watershed but was never acidified. The water chemistry is acceptable for the purpose of establishing a self-sustaining population; however, issues with spawning habitat need to be assessed.      
High5(iv)Habitat & Population ManagementAcidificationA Class Environmental Assessment for Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves will be necessary to allow any future whole lake liming treatment of the native lakes should this be necessary.While recent results suggest whole lake liming is not necessary in the short-term, it would be ideal to complete an EA in advance to ensure no delays are encountered should liming become necessary for the native lakes in the future.  The ATRT should determine if an EA can be completed in advance to avoid possible delays.
High1, 5(i), 5(iii), 5(iv)Habitat & Population ManagementAllThe park management plan for Lady Evelyn- Smoothwater Park requires completion.  The recovery team suggests this plan not only be completed but needs to incorporate management actions for the recovery and management of the native aurora trout lakes.Completion of the park plan will allow for the better coordination of recovery and management actions between park managers and the ATRT.
High1Habitat & Population Management AllMaintain long-term monitoring programs for water quality and benthic invertebrates within Whitepine and Whirligig lakes.  This program will be expanded as naturally reproducing non-native lake populations are established.  It is necessary to review the data collected to date and re-examine the current sampling frequency.  All monitoring activities for the native lakes(this action item and the following two actions) should be completed in collaboration between the ATRT and Ontario Parks.Provides critical information on the water quality status of the aurora trout lakes.  This is especially critical for the native lake populations.  This information will help determine whether or not additional intervention acts (e.g. re-application of whole lake liming) may be necessary in the short-term to prevent the re-extirpation of aurora trout.  It should be noted that all work within a Provincial Park requires approval of the Park Superintendent.
High1, 3(i)Population ManagementAllFinalize the current draft status report for aurora trout.  As well, compile all data and complete reports related to fish population surveys completed in Whitepine and Whirligig lakes.   Completion of these reports will provide resource managers with access to the most relevant up-to-date data on the status of aurora trout.
High1, 2, 3(i), 3(iv)Population ManagementAllContinue to conduct fish population surveys to establish population estimates, biomass estimates, growth rate, age class structure, sex ratios, acquire genetic material, etc. in Whitepine and Whirligig lakes.   Repeat at least once every 5 years with frequency increasing if results suggest the potential for re-extirpation.  This survey work will be extended to include any future waters where aurora trout are introduced with the intent of establishing self-sustaining populations.Provides critical baseline information necessary to assess the success of the re-introductions into the native lakes (and into any non-native lakes).  This population information from the native lakes will also provide insight into determining the need for future intervention (e.g. whole lake liming) to prevent re-extirpation of aurora trout. 
High2, 3(v), 3(vi), 4, 5(ii)Population ManagementN/AAs set out in subsection 83(4) of the Species at Risk Act, a person can engage in an otherwise prohibited activity if the activity is permitted by a recovery strategy and the person is authorized under an Act of Parliament to engage in that activity. The activities  permitted by this recovery strategy under s.83(4) are described under Section 12 – Activities Permitted by the Recovery Strategy.Continuation of the limited trophy angling opportunities will enhance public knowledge and interest in the species and support for recovery efforts.  Additional activities such as egg collections from the brood stock lake and non-lethal and lethal sampling are necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of aurora trout.  Continuation of these activities is critical for managers to continue to monitor the success of native lake populations over the long-term, as well as for hatchery personnel who must ensure no disease agents are unknowingly introduced into the hatchery environment.   
High2, 3(v), 3(vi)Population Management Maintenance of hatchery brood stockContinue to maintain aurora trout culture and production facilities at Hills Lake Fish Culture Station and continue to use Alexander Lake as a brood stock lake.Provides egg collection opportunities from existing managed brood stock for the purpose of ensuring long-term survival of the aurora trout populations.  Maintaining Alexander Lake ensures that the entire brood stock would not be lost following a catastrophic event in the hatchery population and vice versa.  The brood stock are being used as a comparison to the re-introduced native populations to detect genetic divergence.  The brood stock also is used to produce fish for stocking to the put-grow-and-take angling lakes.
High3(vi)Population ManagementInbreedingDevelop a breeding strategy based upon outcomes of research into taxonomic assessment and the other genetic studies.Will provide a method to maximize genetic diversity of aurora trout
High4, 5(ii)Population ManagementN/AMaintain a total of nine angling lakes with the surplus fish from the hatchery. Provides excellent opportunities to promote awareness and provide education regarding the plight of species at risk and in particular that of aurora trout.  This does not affect the recovery of the aurora trout because the native lakes (as well as any naturally reproducing non-native lakes and Alexander Lake) are closed to angling at all times.  Limiting the number of aurora trout angling lakes to a maximum of nine and minimizing their geographic distribution helps to ensure aurora trout remain a unique element of global biodiversity.  Unrestricted expansion of trophy fishing opportunities will only serve to minimize the uniqueness of aurora trout and the conservation value it represents.
Medium 3(iv), 3(v)Population ManagementAcidification.  Meets a secondary Recovery GoalInvestigate the potential of other waters to support a self-sustaining aurora trout population.  Preference shall be given to lakes within the original watershed.  However, in recognition of acidic deposition and water quality issues with the native lakes, it may be necessary to assess waters outside of the original watershed.  In this case, preference will generally be given to adjacent watersheds, then across Northeast Region, and then to other watersheds outside of Northeast Region.  Any lake selected must meet selection criteria established by the Recovery Team. Acidic deposition zones will also be considered when evaluating potential new waters.Priority will generally be given to suitable waters closest to the native lakes and with the lowest acidic deposition rates for the establishment of a self-sustaining satellite population.  The area of search for suitable waters will start within the original watershed and will expand outward from there.  Any water selected for an introduction will require a Class EA and the completion of the risk assessment screening outlined in the National Code for Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms.
Low4, 5(i), 5(ii)Population ManagementIllegal harvestingEncourage increased angler compliance through education and enhancing the current level of enforcement monitoring. Ensure that non-compliance events related to lake closures do not occur to assist with on-going and future recovery efforts.
Low4, 5(ii),  5(iv)Population Management Establish criteria for selecting new angling lakes if any of the existing lakes become unsuitable for stocking. Provides direction for selecting potential waterbodies as candidate angling lakes should any of the existing lakes be compromised.
Low5(i), 5(ii), 5(iii)Habitat and Population ManagementAllUpdate the existing aurora trout brochure.Provides clear messaging to the public and others on the current status of aurora trout.  This and other communications products should be developed in Co-operation among Ontario Parks and OMNR Fish & Wildlife Branch.
Low5(i), 5(ii), 5(iii)Habitat and Population ManagementAllEstablish a biodiversity display at Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater Provincial Park (or another nearby Ontario Parks office) and possibly at the angling lakes.Similar to the display developed at Hills Lake Fish Culture facility, this display will be an educational tool for delivering species at risk messaging.
Low5(i), 5(iii)Habitat and Population ManagementKnowledge GapObserve and record on video aurora trout spawning behaviour for use in displays.Provides excellent video images for media outlets that are always looking for up-to-date information on this flagship species at risk success story.
Low5(i), 5(ii), 5(iii)Habitat and Population ManagementIntroduction of Invasive SpeciesEducate the anglers on the consequences of using live bait in aurora trout lakes through brochures and signs at the existing aurora trout angling lakes. Will assist in preventing the introduction of non-native species into the put-grow-and-take aurora trout lakes.  This will be coordinated through OMNR’s existing Invasive Species program and may include partnerships with organizations such as OFAH.