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Recovery Strategy for the Salish Sucker (Catostomus sp.) in Canada (proposed)

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the Salish Sucker (Catostomus sp.) in Canada.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Salish Sucker


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 spell out 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 and water users, and conservationists in recovery implementation.

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.

Recommended citation:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2012. Recovery Strategy for the Salish Sucker (Catostomus sp.) in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver. viii + 64 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

M. Pearson

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement pour le meunier de Salish (Catostomus sp.) au Canada [proposition] »

©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2012. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-0-662-45387-1
Cat. no. En3-4/19-2007E-PDF

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


The Salish Sucker is a freshwater fish and is under the responsibility 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 Salish Sucker was listed as endangered under SARA in June 2005. The development of this recovery strategy was co-led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Pacific Region and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, in cooperation and consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, as indicated below. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41) and the British Columbia Ministry of Environment has reviewed and accepts this document as scientific advice.

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 party alone. This strategy provides advice to jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved or wish to become involved in the recovery of the species. In the spirit of the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Salish Sucker and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of BC will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and their overall responsibility for species at risk conservation.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new information. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans 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 of Fisheries and Oceans 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 Salish Sucker under the Species at Risk Act is Fisheries and Oceans Canada.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada 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 Salish Sucker.

Members of the Recovery Team for Salish Sucker are listed below:

Tom G. Brown, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Karen Calla, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (previous Co-Chair)
Todd Hatfield, Solander Ecological Research (Recovery Team 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)
Dan Sneep, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (previous Co-Chair)
Dolph Schluter, University of British Columbia
Heather Stalberg, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Co-Chair)
Marina Stjepovic, Township of Langley
Eric Taylor, University of British Columbia
Paul Wood, University of British Columbia

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

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 Salish Sucker, potential effects on other species were also considered. The strategy calls for the protection, creation, and enhancement of deep pool and marsh habitat, which could eliminate some of the riffle habitat of Nooksack Dace, another species listed as Endangered under SARA. The strategy recommends cooperation with local stewardship groups and agency staff on habitat management, and proposes to address potential conflicts with recovery of Nooksack Dace 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 minimizing probability of predator introductions, by documenting their occurrence and educating the public on their impacts, which could provide benefits to other species that could be affected by introduced predators. 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 Support Recovery Objectives and Effects on Other Species. Taking these 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)].

As stated in the Recovery potential assessment for the Salish Sucker (Catostomus sp.) in Canada (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2009), the concept of residence does not apply to Salish Sucker.

Executive summary

The Salish Sucker (Catostomus sp.) is a small-bodied, fine-scaled fish documented in 11 British Columbia watersheds, all in the Fraser Valley. At least four other populations occur in northwestern Washington State. One of the 11 British Columbia populations (Little Campbell River) is believed to have been extirpated. Salish Sucker populations have been in decline since at least the 1960s in Canada, and probably for longer.

Adults are most abundant in headwater marshes and beaver ponds. Juveniles are found in shallow pools or glides containing cover, but may also use other habitats. Spawning occurs in riffles over fine gravel; diet is composed predominately of insect larvae. Most individuals have small home ranges (mean of 170 m of channel, May - Oct), although some individuals venture kilometres during the spawning period. Within watersheds, distribution is extremely clumped, with a few sites harbouring most of the population. Consequently spatial distribution and longevity of habitat patches, in addition to their size, may be important for long-term persistence of Salish Sucker.

Salish Sucker populations appear to be most vulnerable to acute hypoxia and to habitat loss. These conditions are common throughout the range and result primarily from over-application of fertilizers and manure, drainage, channelization, dredging and infilling activities associated with agriculture and residential land development. Hypoxia is difficult to address in the current regulatory and policy context and is likely the single largest threat.

Although it is poorly known, predation by introduced species is currently considered only a moderate threat, as these species appear to have coexisted with Salish Sucker for a decade in some parts of their range. However, the ubiquity of introduced predators and their documented impacts on other species justifies the ranking of this threat as moderate. Habitat fragmentation is currently a moderate threat to Salish Sucker, but its impacts are poorly understood. Sediment deposition and toxicity (in the form of contaminated sediments) appear to be major threats in some, but not all, watersheds.

Critical habitat for Salish Sucker includes all reaches in streams currently containing populations with more than 50 m of continuous pool and a water depth exceeding 70 cm at summer low flows. As the primary habitat for the majority of the life cycle, with the exception of spawning, all deep pools in such reaches are important features of critical habitat for Salish Sucker. The 50 m threshold was chosen because it is the minimum length of all reaches known to contain moderate or high densities of Salish Sucker (catch per unit effort > 1.8 individual per trapFootnote 1, Pearson, unpubl.). Critical habitat for Salish Sucker includes all aquatic habitat and riparian reserve strips of native vegetation on both banks for the entire length of these reaches. Riparian reserve strips are continuous and extend laterally from the top of bank to a width equal to the widest zone of sensitivity (ZOS) calculated for each of five riparian features, functions and conditions. The ZOS values are calculated using methods consistent with those used under the Fish Protection Act (S.B.C. 1997, c. 21).

The total length of critical habitat identified for Salish Sucker in this recovery strategy is 145.74 km (of 329.1 km of surveyed stream channel). The areas identified as critical habitat are those considered necessary to support the species survival and recovery and to reach the population and distribution objectives for Salish Sucker. Additional habitats that fall outside the definition above will also be identified as critical habitat in subsequent action plans if it is known to provide a critical function as per the description of habitat in SARA.

Under SARA, critical habitat must be legally protected once it is identified. This will be accomplished through a SARA order, which will prohibit the destruction of the identified critical habitat. SARA includes a provision for permitting related to the prohibition against destruction provided specific conditions are met.


Recovery of Salish Sucker populations is both technically and biologically feasible. It will involve the establishment and/or maintenance of sufficient high quality habitat for all life stages in each creek. Required actions will vary, but will generally include water quality improvement and restoration of degraded or destroyed habitat. Management activities will be required in all watersheds.

The goal of recovery is:

To ensure long-term viability of Salish Sucker populations throughout their natural distribution in Canada.

The recovery strategy has three objectives:

  1. Prevent extirpation of Salish Sucker in each of the 10 watersheds with extant populations by preventing net loss of reproductive potential.
  2. Reach or exceed each of the following targets by 2020:
    1. occupation of all instream critical habitats,
    2. watershed-specific abundance targets for mature individuals,
    3. one or more source habitats with high density in each watershed.
  3. Reintroduce Salish Sucker to Little Campbell River, if feasible.

Nine broad strategies have been identified in support of these objectives.

  1. Reduce incidence of severe hypoxia in instream critical habitats.
  2. Protect existing habitat, restore lost or degraded habitat and create new habitat.
  3. Increase the integrity and function of all riparian habitats.
  4. Encourage stewardship among private landowners, local government and agencies, and the general public.
  5. Reduce fragmentation of instream and riparian habitats.
  6. Reduce toxic contamination of instream habitat.
  7. Reduce sediment entry to instream habitats.
  8. Reduce impacts of introduced predators.
  9. Assess feasibility of reintroducing Salish Sucker into the Little Campbell River.

The objectives and strategies are presented in detail in the recovery strategy.


Footnote 1

Double ended cylindrical funnel traps 100 x 55 cm, 0.5” mesh, baited with dry cat food set for 24 h (see Pearson and Healey 2003).

Return to footnote 1