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Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Sand Darter

Executive Summary

The eastern sand darter [Ammocrypta pellucida (Agassiz, 1863)] is a small benthic and translucent fish whose North American range is discontinuous and composed of two disjunct areas.  One element occurs in the Great Lakes and Ohio River drainage, while the other occurs in Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.  In Ontario, it has been collected from shallow habitats in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and from the Grand, Sydenham and Thames rivers.  In Quebec, eastern sand darter occur, for the most part, in the St. Lawrence and its tributaries between Lake of Two Mountains and Leclercville, downstream from Lake St. Pierre.  The species was reported in a few tributaries in six areas of the province: Centre du Quebec, Lanaudière, Laval, Maurice, Montérégie and Montreal.

There is little data available on the eastern sand darter throughout its Canadian range.  Nevertheless, the little data that are available suggest that eastern sand darter populations are declining throughout their entire range.  In Canada, total numbers have been declining since 1950.  The silting of sandy habitats represents the main cause for the decline in abundance and range of eastern sand darter.  Threats to Canadian populations include: agricultural pollution; urban and industrial pollution; loss of riparian cover; dam construction; stream channelization and change to natural flow regimes; riparian pastures; wave action from boats; lower water levels in the St. Lawrence River; exotic or invading species; commercial bait fishing; and, pet trade.

This recovery strategy defines the goal, objectives and recommended approaches considered necessary for the protection and recovery of the eastern sand darter in Canada. 

The long-term goal of this recovery strategy is to prevent the further decline of eastern sand darter populations and the deterioration of their habitat in Canada.  It is also to ensure the species’ sustainability by increasing the distribution and abundance of eastern sand darter throughout its current Canadian range through improvements to habitat quality and reintroductions (if feasible).

Short-term Recovery Objectives (5 year)

As available information on current and historic eastern sand darter populations is very limited, it is quite difficult to establish precise objectives in terms of the absolute number of individuals.  Thus, the objectives presented here are more qualitative in nature. 

 Protect known populations and habitats.

  1. Determine the extent, abundance and demographics of existing populations through a focused sampling program.
  2. Determine the extent, abundance and quality of existing habitat (sandy patches) in areas of occurrence through a focused sampling program.
  3. Identify key habitat requirements to define critical habitat and implement strategies to protect known habitats.
  4. Establish a long-term population and habitat monitoring program.
  5. Clarify threats and identify remedial actions to reduce their effects.
  6. Examine the feasibility of translocations, reintroductions and captive rearing.
  7. Increase awareness of the significance of this species and its status as an aquatic species at risk and indicator of ecosystem health.
  8. Develop linkages among partners, including watershed-based recovery teams, interest groups, industry, agencies and landowners interested in supporting the recovery of the eastern sand darter.

Some measures have already been implemented for the recovery of the eastern sand darter in both Ontario and Quebec.  In Ontario, several eastern sand darter surveys have been conducted from 1997 to 2005 in nine historically and/or currently occupied waterbodies.  Also, five ecosystem or multi-species recovery strategies that address eastern sand darter recovery have been initiated in Ontario.  In Quebec, a provincial Cyprinidae and Small Percidae Recovery Team was formed in February 2006.  Its central focus for 2006-2007 is on the following three species: the eastern sand darter, the channel darter (Percina copelandi) and the bridle shiner (Notropis bifrenatus).  Inventories were done in 2002 in the southern part of the Assomption River drainage basin in the Lanaudière area, and, in 2006, in the drainage basins of the Châteauguay River in Montérégie and the Outaouais River in Outaouais.  In 2005 and 2006, a study was also conducted to assess the impact of the fall baitfish commercial fishery on the eastern sand darter, as well as on four other imperilled species designated under the Species at Risk Act.