A photo of a Pugnose Shiner
Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Government response statements

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy for the Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus) in Ontario was completed on November 22, 2013.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy were considered and this response statement identifies those that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

The Pugnose Shiner is a small, slender minnow, reaching up to six cm in length. It is silver with a pale yellow to olive- coloured back and a dark stripe along its side. It has a blunt snout and a very small, upturned mouth. Pugnose Shiner is limited to four regions of Ontario, in the southern drainage of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River.

Moving forward to protect and recover Pugnose Shiner

The Pugnose Shiner is listed as a threatened species under the ESA, which protects both the animal and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of their habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

The Pugnose Shiner is considered globally rare to uncommon and is endemic to North America, where it is found in several tributaries of the upper Mississippi River, in the upper Red River drainage and in the Great Lakes drainage. In Canada, the Pugnose Shiner is found at only a handful of sites in southern Ontario, including the Teeswater River, the old Ausable Channel, and a few coastal wetlands in Lake St. Clair (and some tributaries), Lake Erie, lower Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. As a result of recent targeted sampling efforts, Pugnose Shiner has also been observed in the Trent River, East Lake, and Waupoos Bay. Future survey effort is expected to be undertaken for West Lake and Wellers Bay. Although recent declines have been observed, distribution trends remain unknown due to a lack of targeted sampling and difficulties with field identification.

The Pugnose Shiner requires densely vegetated habitat with a sand/silt substrate in waters that are less than two metres deep for spawning. Once hatched, the young are often associated with aquatic plants such as stonewort, wild celery, and pondweeds. Adults can be found in clear waters of stream, lakes and bays with slow currents and ample vegetation, with substrates composed of sand, silt, mud, clay, marl or organic debris.

There are many knowledge gaps in our understanding of the biology and ecology of Pugnose Shiner. One of these knowledge gaps includes the direct and indirect effects of pollutants on Pugnose Shiner. Understanding the species’ tolerance to various water quality parameters is important to understanding these threats. The deterioration of its habitat in coastal wetlands, the effects of some invasive species, and the associated effects on its distribution are also unknown. There are a number of small isolated populations that may limit the species’ ability to disperse and recolonize historical habitats.

The main threat to the Pugnose Shiner is habitat degradation, including the alteration and destruction of wetlands, and increased erosion from shoreline development resulting in increased sediment loading and turbidity. Habitat degradation has resulted in a lack of connectivity between populations which may be resulting in a reduction in genetic diversity and preventing Pugnose Shiner from colonizing other suitable habitat. Waterbodies where this fish currently lives are becoming less suitable due to soil erosion and runoff from nearby urban and agricultural development. Invasive species (e.g. Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Eurasian Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) are also a concern in some areas.

Many aquatic species in southwestern Ontario are facing similar threats to Pugnose Shiner. Encouraging ongoing stewardship activities and coordination of those activities on a watershed basis is important to mitigating the main threats that affect many species at risk. An ecosystem approach to mitigating threats to aquatic species will enable more effective ways to address many of the main threats to Pugnose Shiner and other aquatic species at risk in those watersheds.

The government’s goal for the recovery of Pugnose Shiner in Ontario is to maintain self-sustaining populations at existing locations, and promote natural expansion and increases in populations.

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led actions

To help protect and recover Pugnose Shiner the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Develop a Pugnose Shiner population and distribution monitoring protocol.
  • Investigate the effectiveness of coastal wetland habitat restoration activities to recover Pugnose Shiner populations.
  • Continue to implement the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan to address the invasive species (e.g. Common Carp) that threaten Pugnose Shiner.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of Pugnose Shiner data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect the Pugnose Shiner and its habitat through the ESA.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners, and Aboriginal communities and organizations to undertake activities to protect and recover the Pugnose Shiner. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and/or advisory services.
  • Encourage collaboration, and establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Pugnose Shiner Actions identified as high will be given priority consideration for funding under the ESA. Where reasonable, the government will also consider the priority assigned to these actions when reviewing and issuing authorizations under the Endangered Species Act. Other organizations are encouraged to consider these priorities when developing projects or mitigation plans related to species at risk. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Research and monitoring

Objective: Increase knowledge about the species population trends, habitat conditions, and threats.

  1. (high) Conduct targeted sampling to determine population demographics, health, range, abundance, and detect new occurrences at: n current locations including unsampled areas of the Old Ausable Channel, Long Point Bay, St. Lawrence River, Lake St. Clair, Canard River;
    • locations with suitable habitat including Teeswater River, Waupoos Bay, Big Creek (Haldimand – Norfolk County), south shore of Lake St. Clair, Lake St. Clair tributaries; and,
    • historic locations at Point Pelee National Park and Gananoque River.
  2. Determine the tolerance of Pugnose Shiner to various water quality parameters (e.g. dissolved oxygen, turbidity, nutrients) and compare against existing water quality standards.

Focus area: Protection and management

Objective: Engage landowners and key stakeholders in stewardship activities to improve habitat and reduce threats.

  1. (high) Work with landowners and other key stakeholders to minimize threats to the species’ habitat by encouraging:
    • the development and implementation of Environmental Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Plans; and,
    • implementation of best management practices (BMPs) in and around the species’ habitat at significantly degraded sites to reduce siltation, turbidity, and nutrient loading in Pugnose Shiner habitat.
  2. In collaboration with existing aquatic ecosystem recovery efforts, continue riparian and shoreline rehabilitation on a watershed basis at highly degraded sites.

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Increase awareness about Pugnose Shiner and the role of healthy aquatic ecosystems, and their importance to humans.

  1. Develop outreach materials that highlight the threats to Pugnose Shiner and the importance of implementing BMPs to reduce siltation and turbidity and reduce the input of toxic pollutants. Distribute materials to conservation partners, Aboriginal communities, the fishing community, and other key stakeholders.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, or the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co- ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of Pugnose Shiner.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for the Pugnose Shiner in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information:

Visit the species at risk website
Contact your MNRF district office
Contact the Natural Resources Information Centre
TTY 1-866-686-6072
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry website