Research Document - 2012/087

Ecologically and biologically significant areas in the Estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence: small pelagic fishes

By I.H. McQuinn, M.-N. Bourassa, C. Tournois, F. Grégoire, and D. Baril


The aim of this study was to define ecologically and biologically significant habitat for small pelagic fishes within the GSL, as part of a coordinated, nationwide effort by DFO. We summarized the basic ecological and biological information from the literature relative to each species and, where data permitted, described the principle spatial and temporal patterns for each biological function of each species within both the northern (nGSL) and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence (sGSL) ecosystems. From the 12 species examined relative to the five ecological functions (feeding, spawning/breeding, nursery, migration, seasonal refugia), 73 important areas (IA) were identified. These IAs were rated at the species-level in relation to the property criteria of uniqueness, aggregation and fitness and combined within the five ecological functions using a spatial model. This produced a composite surface map from which 14 EBSA candidates were identified, seven at the species level and seven at the pelagic-community level. Most EBSAs in the nGSL were associated with the channel slopes. In the sGSL, the inshore shallow estuaries and bays (Chaleur Bay, Shediac Valley and Northumberland-St. Georges Bay area) stand out as important areas, mostly from the diversity of species that utilise these habitats, and for the important ecological functions that are preformed there. The Strait of Belle Isle was also highlighted as an important spawning area for autumn herring, as well as for aggregations of sand lance and capelin. This area is a known foraging area fish-eating species of dolphins and whales.

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