Recovery Strategy for the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), St. Lawrence Estuary Population, Canada [Final] 2011

Figure 1. Striped bass (Morone saxatilis)

Figure 2. Location of the five rivers in Eastern Canada that have supported striped bass populations

Figure 3. Range of the historic population of St. Lawrence Estuary striped bass

Figure 4. Map of a section of the St. Lawrence Estuary where, according to local fishermen, the accumulation of sand may have reduced water depth between Île Madame and Île aux Grues (in pink)

Figure 5. Delineation of critical habitat in the intertidal zone and 0 to 5 m depth zone of Anse Sainte-Anne in the St. Lawrence Estuary

Table 1. Status of the striped bass according to NatureServe (NatureServe 2009)

Table 2. Classification of threats to the striped bass population of the St. Lawrence Estuary

Table 3. Number of striped bass stocked in the St. Lawrence, by age group and length

Table 4. Recovery planning, striped bass population of the St. Lawrence Estuary

Table 5. Performance indicators for the recovery strategy objectives

Table 6. Summary of the functions, features and attributes of critical habitat

Table 7. Examples of activities that are likely to result in the destruction critical habitat

Table 8. Schedule of studies to identify the critical habitat of the striped bass of the St. Lawrence Estuary

Striped bass

September 2011

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 outline 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. A period of 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 Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.

Recommended citation:
Robitaille, J., M. Bérubé, A. Gosselin, M. Baril, J. Beauchamp, J. Boucher, S. Dionne, M. Legault, Y. Mailhot, B. Ouellet, P. Sirois, S. Tremblay G. Trencia, G. Verreault and D. Villeneuve. 2011. Recovery Strategy for the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), St. Lawrence Estuary Population, Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Ottawa : Fisheries and Oceans Canada. xi + 51 p.

Additional copies:
Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration: © Jean Robitaille

Également disponible en français sous le titre:
Programme de rétablissement du bar rayé (Morone saxatilis), population de l’estuaire du Saint-Laurent, Canada.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, 2011. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-100-18619-1
Catalogue no: En3-4/105-2011E-PDF

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

Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is a “competent minister” for the recovery of the striped bass, St. Lawrence Estuary population. This recovery strategy was developed in accordance to section 37 of SARA. The development of this recovery strategy was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Quebec Region with the ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune du Québec. It has been prepared in collaboration with the members of the St. Lawrence Estuary Striped Bass Recovery Team (Part 4) and in consultation with aboriginal communities, organizations and government agencies. The proposed recovery strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (sections 39–41).

Success in the recovery of the striped bass, St. Lawrence Estuary population, depends on the commitment and cooperation of many 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 or any other party alone. In the spirit of the national Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans invites all Canadians to join Fisheries and Oceans Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the species and Canadian society as a whole. Fisheries and Oceans Canada will support implementation of this strategy to the extent possible, given available resources and their overall responsibility for species at risk conservation. Implementation of the strategy by other participating jurisdictions and organizations is subject to their respective policies, appropriations, priorities, and budgetary constraints.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new information. The competent ministers will report on progress within five years. This strategy will be complemented by an action plan that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation of the 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.

The present document was written by Jean Robitaille, M.Sc., of the Coopérative des conseillers en écologie appliquée de Québec, with the collaboration from members of the St. Lawrence Estuary Striped Bass Recovery Team (see Section 4 for list of members).

The Recovery Team wishes to thank Francis Bouchard, Anne-Marie Pelletier and Geneviève Bourget for their participation in some of the work sessions and for their contribution to the research on the striped bass of the St. Lawrence and Gilles Fortin for cartography support.

In accordance with the 1999 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 in general. 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 habitat.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the striped bass. The reintroduction of striped bass in the St. Lawrence could contribute to restoring this ecosystem's biodiversity (Comité aviseur sur la réintroduction du bar rayé, 2001). The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species, particularly preys or competitors, was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. Refer to the following sections of the document, in particular: Habitat and Biological Needs; Ecological Role; Limiting Factors; Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives and Effects on Other Species.

Until the end of the 1960s, the St. Lawrence River was home to a native population of striped bass (Morone saxatili), an anadromous fish typical of eastern North American estuaries and coastal waters. The striped bass population of the St. Lawrence proved to be quite resilient and, since the 19th century, had been the object of intensive commercial and sports fisheries. The striped bass fishery was characterized by periods of great abundance and plentiful harvests alternating with years of scarcity during which the population was able to recover. However, the population recovery which was expected in the early 1960s failed to materialize and the striped bass disappeared completely in the following years. Analysis of biological data collected between 1944 and 1962 indicates a reduction in the distribution range of this fish, a period coinciding with the expansion and regular dredging of the Traverse du Nord, the Île d'Orléans section of the shipping channel. Changes to habitats used by immature striped bass may have compounded the effects of the fisheries and brought mortality rates to a level the population could no longer support.

By the end of the 1960s, the striped bass no longer appeared in the reported catches of commercial and sports fishermen in the St. Lawrence. As a result of this prolonged absence, the fishing community concluded that the striped bass was likely extirpated. In 1980, the Comité pour la sauvegarde des espèces menacées au Québec (COSEMEC), the first organization to address the issue of threatened species in Quebec, added the striped bass population of the St. Lawrence to a list of priority species (COSEMEC, 1981) and undertook the first steps towards a comprehensive study of the subject (Beaulieu 1985). The disappearance of this population was first acknowledged by Quebec authorities (Trépanier and Robitaille 1995) and then by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (Robitaille 2004).

In 2001, a committee of specialists on the striped bass and fisheries issued a favorable assessment of the possibility of reintroducing striped bass in the St. Lawrence combined with a monitoring program targeting this population and the biological community components that could be affected, and an action plan was drafted (Comité aviseur sur la réintroduction du bar rayé 2001). Several organizations lent their support to the project or contributed in various ways (Appendix 2). In 2002, a reintroduction program, including the breeding of fish in Quebec hatcheries, was developed in Quebec using striped bass captured in the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. Between 2002 and 2009, more than 6,300 striped bass, over 60 mm in length (ages 0+ to 6+) and 6.5 million larvae, 2 to 4 mm long, were stocked to assist the recovery of the striped bass population of the St. Lawrence Estuary. The reintroduction program, which aims to stock up to 50,000 autumn fry (Comité aviseur sur la réintroduction du bar rayé 2001), is slated to begin in the coming years. The striped bass which have been stocked to date have consisted of surplus individuals taken from the breeding program.

The authorities responsible for the protection of wildlife species at risk in Quebec and Canada have agreed to combine their resources and their expertise to ensure the success of this wide-ranging initiative. The present recovery strategy for the striped bass of the St. Lawrence Estuary constitutes the first step in this concerted action.

The striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is a spiny fish with an elongated, laterally compressed body and a triangular head. It can reach up to 90 cm in length in the St. Lawrence. It is an anadromous species typical of eastern North American estuaries and coastal waters. Spawning, incubation, and early larval development occur in freshwater and the juveniles migrate downstream to brackish water and eventually salt water to feed and grow for several years before reaching maturity.

In Canada, five native striped bass populations have existed in three distinct sectors corresponding to the three designatable units recognized by the COSEWIC: the Bay of Fundy, the Southern Gulf and the St. Lawrence Estuary. The St. Lawrence Estuary population, which is the object of the present recovery strategy, was designated extirpated in Canada in November 2004, after having disappeared in the late sixties. However, a reintroduction program has been under way since 2002. Between 2002 and 2009, more than 6,300 striped bass measuring over 60 mm in length (ages 0+ to 6+) and 6.5 million larvae, 2 to 4 mm long, were stocked in the St. Lawrence between Saint-Pierre-les-Becquets and Rivière-Ouelle.

The St. Lawrence Estuary Striped Bass Recovery Team has identified twelve threats to the survival and recovery of the species, arranged in three general categories: threats to habitat, threats due to the harvesting of individuals and biological threats. After analysis, the recovery of the striped bass of the St. Lawrence Estuary has been deemed both biologically and technically feasible. The recovery goal is to restore, over the next ten years, a striped bass population capable of reproducing and sustaining itself in the St. Lawrence Estuary and of integrating itself into the biological community without disturbance.

To reach this goal, five objectives have been identified:

  1. Increase the number of striped bass;
  2. Identify the habitats used by the striped bass;
  3. Monitor the status of the striped bass population;
  4. Monitor the status of certain components of the ichthyological community (prey, predators, competitors) in relationship with the striped bass;
  5. Protect the striped bass population and its most important habitat.

To reach these objectives, 19 recovery measures related to five general strategies have been formulated: 1) Inventory and monitoring; 2) Acquisition of knowledge; 3) Artificial production and stocking; 4) Protection, restoration and stewardship; and 5) Outreach.

Given the knowledge gaps and the absence of a quantitative recovery target, thorough identification of critical habitat is not feasible at this time. One segment of the critical habitat can nonetheless be identified, based on the best available information. This is the zone of juvenile (age 0+) concentration located at Anse Sainte-Anne, at La Pocatière during the fall, from September 1 to October 31. A schedule of studies required to identify critical habitat has been established to acquire the necessary information to further identify critical habitat in the action plan, which will be developed within the next five years.

The recovery goal, objectives and approaches presented in this strategy are based on the best available knowledge and may change if new information becomes available. The competent minister will issue a progress report within five years.


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