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Research Document - 2010/084

Information Relevant to a Recovery Potential Assessment of Lake Sturgeon: Winnipeg River-English River Populations (DU5)

By H. Cleator, K.A. Martin, T.C. Pratt, C. Barth, B. Corbett, M. Duda, and D. Leroux


The Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) was common in nearshore waters across much of Canada in the nineteenth century, but intensive fishing, habitat loss and degraded water quality caused severe reductions in population size or extirpation across their range. Today they remain extant from the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, to Hudson Bay in the north, and eastward to the St. Lawrence River estuary. In November 2006, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed Lake Sturgeon in Canada. Designatable Unit (DU) 5, the Winnipeg River-English River populations, includes Lake Sturgeon in the Winnipeg River from Pine Falls upstream to Kenora and the English-Wabigoon river system. COSEWIC assessed and designated DU5 as Endangered as Lake Sturgeon in this DU declined severely over the past century and a significant portion of their habitat has been degraded or lost. Historically, over-exploitation from commercial fisheries was probably the primary threat, whereas more recently habitat degradation or loss resulting from industrial activities and dams/impoundments and other barriers, genetic contamination from stocking, fishing and population fragmentation, resulting from dams/impoundments and other barriers, have become the most important threats.

DU5 Lake Sturgeon is being considered for legal listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). In advance of making a listing decision, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has been asked to undertake a Recovery Potential Assessment (RPA). This RPA summarizes the current understanding of the distribution, abundance and population trends of Lake Sturgeon in DU5, along with recovery targets and times. The current state of knowledge about habitat requirements, threats to both habitat and Lake Sturgeon, and measures to mitigate these impacts for DU5 are also included. This information may be used to inform both scientific and socio-economic elements of the listing decision, development of a recovery strategy and action plan, and to support decision-making with regards to the issuance of permits, agreements and related conditions, as per sections 73, 74, 75, 77 and 78 of SARA.

Nine Lake Sturgeon Management Units (MUs) have been identified for DU5. Available data and expert opinion indicate that current status is critical in MUs 3 and 4, and population trajectory is decreasing in MU3 and unknown or possibly decreasing in MU4. The status of MU7 is cautious and population trajectory is unknown. MUs 5 and 6 are both healthy and population trajectory is stable or increasing in MU5 and stable in MU6. The status and population trajectories of MUs 1, 2, 8 and 9 are unknown. Current data indicates that there are several thousand adult Lake Sturgeon in this DU and juveniles are abundant. There is evidence of population recovery in some MUs.

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