Spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) recovery strategy

Official title: Recovery strategy for the spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the spotted gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada.

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Spotted gar

About the Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA spell out both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.

Recommended citation:

Staton, S.K., A.L. Boyko, S.E. Dunn, and M. Burridge. 2012. Recovery strategy for the Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Ottawa. vii + 57 p.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration:

© Joseph R. Tomelleri

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement du lépisosté tacheté (Lepisosteus oculatus) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2012. All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-1-100-21127-5
Cat. no. En3-4/146-2012E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


The Spotted Gar is a freshwater fish and is under the responsibility of the federal government. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is a “competent minister” for aquatic species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Since Spotted Gar has been located in Point Pelee National Park of Canada administered by Parks Canada Agency, the Minister of the Environment is also a “competent minister” under SARA. SARA, ’Section 37, requires the competent ministers to prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species. The Spotted Gar was listed as Threatened under SARA in May 2005. The development of this recovery strategy was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Central and Arctic Region in cooperation and consultation with many individuals, organizations and government agencies, as indicated below. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39-41). It was developed in cooperation or consultation with the following (see Appendix 1 for a full record of consultations), as appropriate:

Jurisdictions - Province of Ontario, Environment Canada (CWS), Parks Canada Agency; Environmental non-government groups – Essex Region Conservation Authority, University of Windsor, Trent University; Aboriginal organizations.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency or any other party alone. This strategy provides advice to jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved or wish to become involved in the recovery of the species. In accordance with the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of the Environment invite all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Spotted Gar and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and their responsibility for species at risk conservation.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best available knowledge and are subject to modifications as new information becomes available. The competent ministers will report on progress within five years of the publication of this document.

This strategy will be complemented by one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of this species. The competent ministers will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or affected by these measures will be consulted.

Responsible jurisdictions

Under the Species at Risk Act, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the competent minister for all Spotted Gar except those occurring in or on lands administered by the Parks Canada Agency. The Minister of the Environment, responsible for the Parks Canada Agency, is the competent minister for individuals located within Point Pelee National Park.


This document was prepared by Shawn K. Staton, Amy L. Boyko, Shelly E. Dunn, and Mary Burridge on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada Agency would like to thank the following organizations for their support of the Ontario Freshwater Fish Recovery Team in the development of the Spotted Gar recovery strategy: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Essex Region Conservation Authority, University of Windsor and Trent University. The authors would like to thank Erling Holm of the Royal Ontario Museum for the use of photographs showing identification features. The authors would also like to thank Sandy Dobbyn for assisting with critical habitat identification in Rondeau Provincial Park. Mapping was produced by Carolyn Bakelaar (Geographic information system (GIS) analyst, DFO) and Marie Archambault (Critical Habitat Assistant, Parks Canada Agency - Point Pelee National Park).

Strategic environmental assessment

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, the purpose of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats.

This recovery strategy will benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Spotted Gar. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. In cases where critical habitats of multiple species occur, a multi-species approach to the management of habitat is required to maximize benefit to co-occurring species at risk. Such an approach recognizes that negative impacts to some species and their habitats may result from habitat management practices aimed at achieving an overall net benefit to the ecosystem and the species at risk that it supports. The SEA concluded that a multi-species approach will benefit the environment overall and minimize any adverse effects (See: Description of the Species’ Habitat and Biological Needs, Ecological Role, and Limiting Factors; Effects on Other Species; and Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives.).


SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [SARA S2(1)].

The residence concept is interpreted by DFO as being constructed by the organism. In this context, Spotted Gar do not construct residences during their life cycle and therefore the concept does not apply (Bouvier and Mandrak 2010).

Executive summary

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; and,
  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 Essex-Erie Recovery Team (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.

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