Skip booklet index and go to page content

Recovery Strategy for the Eastern Sand Darter

2.5 Critical Habitat

2.5.1    Description

As defined by the Species at Risk Act (SARA), critical habitat means “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species”.  The identification of critical habitat requires a thorough knowledge of the species’ environmental needs during all life stages, as well as an understanding of the distribution, quantity and quality of habitat across the species’ range.  At present, this information is not available for Canadian populations of eastern sand darter, although Table 7 outlines activities that would assist with obtaining the required information.  These activities are not exhaustive, but outline the range and scope of actions identified by the recovery team as necessary to identify critical habitat for the eastern sand darter in Ontario and Quebec.  It is likely that during the process of investigating the actions in Table 7, discovery of further knowledge gaps may arise that need to be addressed.  Until critical habitat can be defined, the recovery team has identified the areas listed as currently occupied habitat as areas in need of conservation.

2.5.2    Examples of Activities Likely to Result in the Destruction of Critical Habitat

Although critical habitat for the eastern sand darter has not yet been defined, it is possible to identify activities that would negatively affect the species habitat, including:

  • construction of structures (e.g. dams and reservoirs) that alter sediment transport and flow conditions;
  • dredging of sandbars;
  • loss of riparian vegetation;
  • shoreline protection (groynes, jetties, placement of rip-rap) that disrupts sediment transport and erosion process;
  • activities promoting vegetative encroachment on sandbars; and,
  • any land-based activities that result in the erosion of fine sediments (silts) into occupied watercourses.

2.5.3    Schedule of Studies to Determine Eastern Sand Darter Critical Habitat

Table 7.  Schedule of activities to identify critical habitat of eastern sand darter in Canada

ActivityAnticipated Completion1(years after finalization of recovery strategy)
Conduct population surveys 1-5 years
Assess habitat variables in currently occupied areas at the site level, reach level and landscape level1-5 years
Determine any life stage differences in habitat use1-5 years
Determine demographic characteristics of populations1-5 years
Begin to determine the species’ physiological thresholds for the relevant water quality parameters (water temperature, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, nutriments, pollutants, pesticides).1-5 years
Identify and describe the species’ migratory behaviour.1-5 years
Survey and map areas of identified critical habitat within currently and historically occupied habitats3-5 years

1timeframes are subject to change as new priorities arise, or as a result of changing demands on resources of personnel.

2.6 Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection

In Canada, the eastern sand darter is protected under the federal government’s Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act (SARA).  It is prohibited to kill, harm, harass, capture or take a species listed under Schedule 1 of the SARA as extirpated, endangered or threatened, or destroy its critical habitat.

In Ontario, planning authorities “must be consistent with” the provincial Policy Statement under Section 3 of Ontario’s Planning Act that prohibits development and site alteration in the habitat of Endangered and Threatened species.  The Ontario Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act prohibits the impoundment or diversion of a watercourse if siltation will result and the voluntary Land Stewardship II program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is designed to reduce erosion on agricultural lands.  Stream-side development in Ontario is managed through floodplain regulations enforced by local conservation authorities.  A majority of the land adjacent to the rivers inhabited by eastern sand darter is privately owned; however, the river-bottom is generally owned by the Crown.

In the province of Quebec, two important provincial Acts protect the species’ habitat: the Conservation and Development of Wildlife Act and the Environment Quality Act.  These Acts provide overall protection for fish habitats, and the eastern sand darter can indirectly benefit from them.  Any activity in the habitat of eastern sand darter is forbidden and must be authorized by the Ministère des Ressources Naturelles et de la Faune (MRNF) and the Ministère du Développement Durable et de Parcs (MDDEP).

Measures already taken or in progress in Quebec:

 i) The provincial Cyprinidae and Small Percidae (CSP) recovery team was formed targeting, in priority, three species in 2006-2007 (eastern sand darter, channel darter and bridle shiner).

 ii) In Quebec, the eastern sand darter appears on the List of Species Likely to be Designated Threatened or Vulnerable under the Quebec government’s Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.  The species is currently under designation process.  The Threatened species status was recommended for this species by the Advisory Committee on Threatened or Vulnerable Wildlife Species. When a wildlife species has been designated as Threatened or Vulnerable, its management and the protection of its habitats fall under the stewardship of the Conservation and Development of Wildlife Act.

2.7 Performance Measures

Measurable performance indicators have been identified for each recovery objective (Table 8).  They will help determine the success obtained in achieving the eight listed objectives over the next five years.

Table 8. Performance indicators for evaluating the achievement of recovery objectives.

Recovery objectives Performance indicators
Protect known populations and habitatsmonitoring indicates that populations remain extant at known sites
Determine the extent, abundance and demographics of existing populations.Existing populations and historical sites and potential habitats have been sampled.
Determine the extent, abundance and quality of existing habitat (sandy patches) in areas of occurrence through a focused sampling program. Gained knowledge of currently occupied and potential of historical habitats.Determine
Identify key habitat requirements to define critical habitat and implement strategies to protect known habitatDescription of eastern sand darter critical habitat.
Establish a long-term population and habitat monitoring program.Monitoring program has been developed.
Clarify threats and identify remedial actions to reduce their effects.Research has been conducted to clarify number, extent and severity of threats to eastern sand darter.
Examine the feasibility of translocations, reintroductions and captive rearing.Research has been conducted to evaluate feasibility of translocations, reintroductions and captive rearing.
Increase awareness of the significance of this species and its status as an aquatic species at risk and indicator of ecosystem health. Outreach program developed and materials distributed.
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.Formalized partnerships developed to increase awareness and formulate action plans towards recovery.

2.8 Possible Recovery Effects on Non-Targeted Species/Ecological Processes

A variety of COSEWIC-listed fishes have ranges and habitats that overlap with the eastern sand darter in Ontario and Quebec including: Ontario – black redhorse (Moxostoma duquesnei), channel darter, northern madtom (Noturus stigmosus), river redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum), silver chub (Macrhybopsis storeriana), silver shiner (Notropis photogenis) and spotted sucker (Minytrema melanops); Quebec – bridle shiner, channel darter.   There are also nine COSEWIC-listed freshwater mussel species that overlap in range with eastern sand darter in southwestern Ontario: kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus fasciolaris), mapleleaf mussel (Quadrula quadrula), mudpuppy mussel(Simpsonaiasambigua), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis), round hickorynut, round pigtoe (Pleurobema sintoxia) and snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra) . 

Also, in Ontario the round hickorynut may benefit directly as the eastern sand darter is a potential fish host for its glochidia (Clarke 1981).  The distribution of eastern sand darter overlaps with the Threatened spiny softshell turtle in Ontario.  Nesting habitats of these turtles have been found to occur on the inside of river bends, downstream of eroding slopes (Dextrase et al. 2003).  Therefore, improvements to eastern sand darter habitat will likely benefit the spiny softshell turtle.

In general, as the eastern sand darter is considered pollution intolerant and requires non-degraded habitats, protection or restoration of its habitats would benefit other native aquatic species.

2.9 Statement of When One or More Action Plans in Relation to the Recovery Strategy Will Be Completed

Ontario Populations: One or more actions plans relating to this recovery strategy for Ontario populations will be produced within 5 years of the strategy being completed.  Wherever possible, recovery action plans should be linked to existing watershed recovery plans in southwestern Ontario.  Partnership with these other recovery teams will ensure that efforts are not duplicated and will help to prevent the implementation of potentially conflicting recovery efforts for different species.

Quebec Populations: An action plan for Quebec populations is currently being finalized (Équipe de rétablissement des cyprinidés et des petits percidés 2007 ) and will provide special details for implementing the recovery.  On one hand, it will include measures for implementing and monitoring the recovery, solving issues concerning threats and make sure objectives are met.  Furthermore, the action plan must include a schedule for applying these measures.  It will also include a definition of the critical habitat to the extent possible, examples of activities that will likely lead to its destruction and recommendations as to protective measures.  Finally, it will include a socio-economic cost assessment and a list of benefits that will result from its implementation.