Executive summary – Recovery strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Ontario

Prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Adoption of the Recovery Strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada (Staton et al. 2012).

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) requires the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to ensure recovery strategies are prepared for all species listed as endangered or threatened on the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List. Under the ESA, a recovery strategy may incorporate all or part of an existing plan that relates to the species.

The Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) is listed as threatened on the SARO List. The species is also listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act(SARA ). Fisheries and Oceans Canada prepared the Recovery Strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada in 2012 to meet its requirements under the SARA . This recovery strategy is hereby adopted under the ESA. With the additions indicated below, the enclosed strategy meets all of the content requirements outlined in the ESA.

Section "Populations and distribution" of the federal recovery strategy for the Spotted Gar (Appendix 1) provides a description of the populations and distribution of Spotted Gar in Ontario. However, additional survey efforts have resulted in new records of Spotted Gar which occur outside the federally designated critical habitat. A summary of the new capture locations are as follows:

  • Rondeau Bay tributaries: Mill Creek, Flat Creek, Wood Drain, McLeans Drain and Indian Creek
  • Muddy Creek (located between Point Pelee and Wheatley Provincial Park)
  • Long Point Bay (located between Port Rowan and Turkey Point)
  • Turkey Point Marsh

Environmental DNA studies also detected Spotted Gar in a tributary to the lower Thames River (Jeanette’s Creek) and in Cootes Paradise; however, subsequent efforts with traditional sampling methods failed to detect the species.

Genetic analyses conducted by W. Glass and co-workers in 2015 have found that Ontario has several distinct populations of Spotted Gar with low levels of inferred gene flow between them.

The Critical Habitat section of the federal recovery strategy provides an identification of critical habitat (as defined under the SARA). Identification of critical habitat is not a component of a recovery strategy prepared under the ESA. However, it is recommended that the approach used to identify critical habitat in the federal recovery strategy be considered when developing a habitat regulation under the ESA. In addition, the new capture locations noted above should also be considered in developing a habitat regulation for this species.

Executive summary – Recovery strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada

Prepared by Stanton et al. 2012, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The Spotted Gar is a relatively large (up to 760 mm in total length), heavily armoured, predatory species with a long, narrow body and elongated snout with many sharp teeth. The back and upper sides are olive green to velvety brown above the lateral line, dull silvery below, and adults have brown spots on the snout, head, body and fins. The Spotted Gar is distinguished from the more common Longnose Gar by its shorter, wider snout. Although globally secure, the Spotted Gar is at the northern extent of its range in southern Ontario and was never common. Extant populations occur within three shallow, heavily vegetated coastal wetlands of Lake Erie (Long Point Bay, Point Pelee National Park and Rondeau Bay). Additionally, new records exist for East Lake and Hamilton Harbour (Lake Ontario drainage); however, it is not known whether reproducing populations exist at these locations as only one individual has been confirmed from each location (in 2007 and 2010, respectively). Historic records of Spotted Gar include single specimens from both Lake St. Clair and the Bay of Quinte (Lake Ontario). Threats to Spotted Gar populations include overall habitat loss (due to dredging, filling and harbour improvements), sediment and nutrient loading, exotic species, barriers restricting movement, climate change and possibly fishing pressure (commercial/recreational incidental harvest).

The Spotted Gar is listed as a threatened species under the federal Species at Risk Act. As such, the Act requires that a recovery strategy be developed to identify approaches required to arrest or reverse the species’ decline. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency, in cooperation with the government of Ontario, Environment Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service) and other partners, have developed a recovery strategy to facilitate the protection and recovery of this species.

The long-term recovery goal (greater than 20 years) of this recovery strategy is to protect, enhance and maintain Spotted Gar populations within the three coastal wetlands of Lake Erie, where extant populations occur. The following short/medium-term recovery objectives will be addressed over a 5-10 year period to assist with meeting the long-term goal:

  1. Refine population and distribution objectives
  2. Ensure adequate protection of critical habitat
  3. Determine long-term population and habitat trends
  4. Identify threats, evaluate their relative impacts, and implement remedial actions as required to reduce their effects
  5. Enhance efficiency of recovery efforts
  6. Enhance quality and extent of available habitat
  7. Improve overall awareness and appreciation of the Spotted Gar and the coastal wetland habitats that support it
  8. Engage landowners, communities and organizations in stewardship actions that minimize/eliminate identified threats to Spotted Gar and its habitat

The recovery team has identified several approaches necessary to ensure that recovery objectives for the Spotted Gar are met. These approaches have been organized into three categories and urgent actions are summarized below:

Research and monitoring:

  • Conduct targeted background surveys at current and historical sites as well as other areas of suitable habitat to determine range, abundance and population size
  • Establish and implement a monitoring program to assess changes in population and habitat characteristics
  • Determine home range size and seasonal habitat needs of each Spotted Gar life-stage.
  • Confirm the significance of all threat factors impacting populations
  • Evaluate the degree of connectivity (hydrologic, ecological and genetic) between Spotted Gar populations

Management and coordination:

  • Coordinate with recovery teams and stewardship groups, including the Essex-Erie Recovery Team (EERT) and other relevant groups to share knowledge and implement recovery actions
  • Encourage municipalities and other land management groups to protect habitats that are important to Spotted Gar within their jurisdiction (e.g., within Official Plans)

Stewardship, outreach and awareness:

  • Promote basin-wide stewardship efforts among landowners within watersheds of the occupied coastal wetlands in Lake Erie
  • Facilitate, through existing stewardship initiatives, the implementation of Best Management Practices and encourage the completion and implementation of Environmental Farm Plans and Nutrient Management Plans

Partial critical habitat descriptions have been developed for Spotted Gar populations in Point Pelee National Park, Long Point Bay/Big Creek National Wildlife Area and Rondeau Bay. A schedule of studies has been developed that outlines necessary steps to further refine the critical habitat descriptions across the species’ range. The schedule of studies will also apply to new locations should established populations be confirmed.

A dual approach to recovery implementation will be taken that combines a multi-species approach complemented by a single-species focus. This will be accomplished through coordinated efforts with relevant groups (e.g., conservation authorities), as well as the EERT and its associated Recovery Implementation Groups. The recovery strategy will be supported by one or more action plans that will be developed within five years of the final strategy being posted on the public registry. The success of recovery actions in meeting recovery objectives will be evaluated through the performance measures provided. The entire recovery strategy will be reported on every five years to evaluate progress and to incorporate new information.