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Recovery Strategy for Northern Wolffish and Spotted Wolffish, and Management Plan for Atlantic Wolffish in Canada [Final]

Executive Summary

Four species of wolffish (family Anarhichadidae) inhabit Canadian waters: Anarhichas denticulatus (northern), A. minor (spotted) and A. lupus (atlantic) in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, and A. orientalis in the Arctic Ocean only. In May 2001, A. denticulatus and A. minor were assessed by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) as “threatened” due to declines in their abundance and biomass. This assessment applies to species likely to become “endangered” if limiting factors are not reversed, while “endangered” refers to species facing imminent extirpation or extinction. COSEWIC indicated that over three generations the abundance of these two species had declined by over 90% and extent of distribution had decreased. Specific threats identified by COSEWIC included bycatch mortality in commercial fisheries and habitat alteration by trawling gear. A third species, A. lupus, was assessed by COSEWIC as “special concern”, suggesting that it is particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events but is not endangered or threatened at this time. All three wolffish species where included in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) at the time of the Act’s proclamation in June 2003.

A. denticulatus and A. minor are the focus of this document, but it also includes discussion of A. lupus. This is because the distributions of the three species overlap over much of their range. Although A. lupus is at a lower designation, it also underwent a decline as great as that observed for the two threatened species over the northern part of its range (Northeast Newfoundland and Labrador Shelf). The two threatened species are primarily distributed on the Grand Banks and areas to the north. A. lupus has a wider distribution in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Scotian Shelf, Bay of Fundy and Georges Bank, where the other two species are rare. While all three species have undergone substantial declines during the 1980s and 1990s, the proximal cause(s) remain uncertain.

This document has been developed by a multi-sector, multi-regional Recovery Team with representation from the fishing industry, academia and government, both federal and provincial. Government representation included expert scientists, fisheries managers and economists to assist in formulating a framework for the conservation and recovery of these wolffish species.

This Recovery Strategy and Management Plan represents a collaborative and consultative effort by the Recovery Team to present the available knowledge and recommend recovery solutions. The Recovery Team determined that it was best to incorporate both threatened wolffish species into a single “multi-species” document and to include A. lupus, a species of special concern, in the discussions due to similar life histories, ecology and taxonomically close relationship.

The Recovery Strategy and Management Plan identifies the paucity of information that exists in regard to population dynamics of wolffish, their ecology, abundance, distribution, habitat utilization, behaviour and interaction with fishing gear and their environment. It points out the immediate need for additional research to enhance formulation of recovery approaches. The document discusses the threats and issues believed to be affecting wolffish conservation and recovery, and presents recommendations to mitigate them. It also promotes stewardship among stakeholders as a means to facilitate and promote recovery.

The goal of this document is to increase the population levels and distribution of A. denticulatus, A. minor and A. lupus in eastern Canadian waters such that the long-term viability of these species is achieved. This will be accomplished by communicating those objectives and strategies outlined below.

Five primary objectives have been identified to achieve this goal:

  • Enhance understanding of the biology and life history of wolffish species
  • Identify, conserve and/or protect wolffish habitat required for viable population sizes and densities
  • Reduce the potential for wolffish population declines by minimizing human impacts
  • Promote wolffish population growth and recovery
  • Develop communications and education programs to promote the conservation and recovery of wolffish populations

All the objectives relate to activities that may be mitigated through human intervention and each is designed to achieve the goals of the Recovery Strategy and Management Plan.

Recommended actions to achieve these objectives are:

  • Study life history of threatened wolffish species
  • Study population structure within eastern Canadian waters
  • Identify recovery limit reference points
  • Study wolffish and ecosystem interactions
  • Identify wolffish habitat
  • Define measures to conserve and/or protect wolffish habitat
  • Identify and mitigate impacts of human activity
  • Increase resource user knowledge and raise public awareness of wolffish species
  • Promote stewardship initiatives
  • Consult and cooperate with harvesters, processors, scientists, regulators, enforcement, observers, dockside monitors and other ocean users
  • Monitor human activities and wolffish species
  • Monitor wolffish spatial and temporal abundance patterns
  • Monitor spatial and temporal patterns of natural and human induced mortality

The Recovery Team acknowledges the need for adaptive management and the necessity to modify or revise this Recovery Strategy and Management Plan as new information becomes available. It is the view of the Recovery Team that adherence to the recommendations put forth in this document, including the mitigation of known threats, provides the best chance to conserve and restore the three wolffish species to a level where they are no longer considered at risk. It is also recognized by the Recovery Team that the implementation of recovery activities are constrained by available resources and that non-human elements (environmental influences) have played a role in the decline of the species and these effects cannot be controlled/mitigated.