Reviewing the Risks: The Latest Assessments at the COSEWIC Meeting

Three Canadian species at risk of disappearing from Canada are…

The assessment of 22 wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in November has highlighted a need for provincial and federal governments to work towards preventing the loss of Canada’s native species.  COSEWIC found the risk status of three species at risk of disappearing from Canada – the Polar Bear, Black Ash tree and Chinook Salmon.

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

These gorgeous bears rely on seal hunting to survive. However, scientists are predicting longer Arctic summers which will make hunting this crucial prey harder. Inuit are hopeful that Polar Bears will be able to adapt and that this ability may save this at-risk bear. The Committee has listed the bear as of Special Concern.

Chinook Salmon

The Chinook salmon migration to the Upper Yukon River must travel around the Whitehorse Rapids Generating Facility via a 300 m long fish ladder. A viewing chamber partway through the ladder provides an incredible opportunity for the public to observe Chinook salmon as they approach spawning grounds

Did you know that Chinook Salmon complete the longest migration in Canada? Sadly, their journey is wrought with challenges and threats along the way.  The committee found 13 populations to be in significant decline and has listed eight populations as Endangered, four as Threatened and one as of Special Concern.

“As a founding member of the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, CWF is concerned that 13 of the 16 population groups of Chinook Salmon assessed from southern British Columbia are at risk of extinction,” says David Browne, CWF Director of Conservation Science. “Declining quality of marine and freshwater habitat is sighted as a key factor. This is yet more reason to invest in habitat restoration and protection in the Fraser River watershed and address the Cohen Commission recommendations. This is also sad news for Southern Resident Killer Whales as their main prey, Fraser River Chinook Salmon, are determined to be at risk of extinction by Canada’s experts.”

Black Ash

Black ash leaves
@ Keith Kanoti

The malicious Emerald Ash Borer has wedeled its way into many forests in Canada. This invasive species has wiped out approximately two billion trees in North America and has no intention of slowing down (or showing much mercy).

It’s unclear how the 162 million Black Ash trees still standing will survive, and so the committee listed the tree as Threatened. Black Ash are a very important tree to our forests. They’re the most widely distributed trees in Canada and are used to make commercial items like baskets, furniture, flooring and snowshoes.

What You Can Do

upload observations to inaturalist.ca
Upload observations to iNaturalist.ca

The last thing we’d want is for you to feel helpless after reading the state of some of Canada’s wildlife. That’s why, we’ve got plenty that you can do to help!  Did you know 13 of the 22 species assessed have been observed by iNaturalist users? You can help to inform assessments of other species by downloading the iNaturalist app and be part of Canada’s biodiversity monitoring team!

 

Santa’s Got Company

The Arctic tundra is a fascinating area between the edge of the boreal forest and the permanent ice caps closer to the North Pole.

This areas spans across Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northeastern Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec and Northern Labrador. Such a vast and harsh arctic climate is home to a limited variety of species that must adapt to the long, cold months and major snow fall.

The Great White Bear

polar bears

The North Pole wouldn’t be complete without the Polar Bear. Unfortunately, the Polar Bear is a species at-risk in the tundra. One of the main threats is climate change which is impacting the sea ice patterns. Sea ice patterns doesn’t sound like a big deal but the Polar Bears, along with many other species at-risk rely on the ice for migration and foraging. When the ice is sparse, it can result in famine and even death.

The Arctic Fox

arctic fox

The Arctic Fox is another common and welcomed sight in the tundra. This mammal perfectly adapts to the harsh conditions by changing the colour of its fur from a brownish-grey to white in the winter months. They also use their thick bushy tails as a warm cover to protect themselves from the harsh cold wind. The Artic Fox, like many other fox species, will travel long distances in search of food like lemmings, birds and their eggs, leftover carcasses and even plants.

Arctic Hare

arctic hare

Like the Arctic Fox, the Arctic Hare have adapted to survive the tundra. They sport short ears, black eyelashes that protect the eye from the glaring sun, and have incredibly thick fur that changes from a blueish-grey to white in the winter. To protect themselves from the cold and predators, the Arctic Hare will dig dens in the snow or soil which helps them conserve body heat. Here, under the snow, they can also find some winter grubs like shrubs, mosses and lichens to keep them full all winter long.

Arctic Char

arctic char

Very few fish species call the Great White North home in its coldest months. One of the fish that lives in the lakes and rivers of the tundra is the Arctic Char. It plays an important role in the tundra as these fish are an important source of food for many birds of prey in the summer and for mammals in the winter. The Arctic Char spends part of its life cycle in fresh water and the other part in salt water. However, some Arctic Char have adapted and made fresh water their primary address after become land locked.

Birds in the Tundra

Greater White-fronted Geese © Nathan Clements
Greater White-fronted Geese | Oies rieuses © Nathan Clements

Birds are the most diverse group in the tundra! It is home to important birds like the Common Eider, Thick-billed Murre and the Arctic Tern. These birds primarily live near the Arctic Ocean and rely on the marine environment for some grubs to feast on.

Plants and Fungi

tundra
@ Martin Prentice

When you think of life in the tundra, plant and fungi aren’t exactly the first thing to come to mind. There are nearly 2,000 species of plants, mosses, sedges, grasses and flowering plants thriving there! Adaptation isn’t only for birds and mammals, plants in the tundra have adapted to shorter growing seasons, lack of humidity and low nutrient level in the soil. Plants grow shorter and closer to the soil which aids when tumultuous windstorms arise. Huddling together for warmth isn’t only for mammals! Plants have adapted to grow huddled together to stay warm.

Sad News About Red Rockette, the Winner of the 2013 Great Canadian Turtle Race

Which turtle would nest first?

This was the question on our minds here at CWF at the start of the Great Canadian Turtle Race. Our friends at the Canadian Sea Turtle Network applied satellite tags to ten female leatherback turtles of the coast of Nova Scotia during the summer of 2012.

And then we all eagerly watched the turtles make their way to their southern nesting grounds of U.S.A., Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Venezuella, Grenada, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

We were all thrilled when Red Rockette nested on a beach in Colombia called Bobalito at the end of March, making her the first to nest and the official winner of the Great Canadian Turtle Race!


As the winner of the 2013 Great Canadian Turtle Race, Red Rockette (red line in map above) was the pacemaker for the 2016 Turtle Race.

Sad News

Friends, we have sad news about our winner. Red Rockette was recently found dead on Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy shoreline. This was a shocking discovery for us because we recently found her again in Canadian waters, off the coast of Nova Scotia, feeding as usual.

However, this year we found her body in a very decomposed state. When marine animals are found in this kind of state, it’s hard to determine a cause of death. We are still waiting on results from the necropsy, although preliminary results indicated that they weren’t able to determine a cause of death.

Model not displaying properly for you? Tap on these gallery images instead:
Leatherback Sea Turtle facing right illustration  |  Leatherback sea turtle facing down illustration  |  Leatherback sea turtle facing left illustration

Leatherback Sea Turtles are long lived animals, and Red Rockette should have had many years left. She was incredibly agile, swimming an average speed of 53 kilometres per day during the 2012/13 race and was still in her reproductive years.

And so we’re left shaking our heads in disbelief. It’s very alarming when a mature, reproductively active female Leatherback Sea Turtle dies – especially in Canadian waters. Canada, as you may know, is one of the safer countries to visit for Leatherbacks, however, clearly we’ve still got work to do to protect these animals while they’re in our waters.

Bullies in the Wild

5 animals that are anything but polite

It’s a jungle out there. Animals are constantly in competition, but some animals take it a little too far. Survival of the fittest is all fair and well, but some animals are downright bullies! These five animals could really benefit from learning their manners.

Cowbird

cowbird

A female cowbird lays her egg in other birds’ nests, hiding them so the females caring for those nests raise her fledgling as their own. Once the chick hatches, it’s quite the bully – pushing the other eggs out of the nest and growing to be twice the size of the other chicks.

Coyote

coyote

Slimmer and smaller than the wolf, coyotes love to scavenge for food from smaller animals, and will target some small livestock such as sheep. Much to the farmer’s frustration, coyotes sneak under fences into pens and prey on unsuspecting sheep.

Wild Boars

wild boar quebec

Indestructible, fearsome, and tough. Some Wild Boars that have escaped from farms in Calgary, have become a dominant and dangerous species throughout Saskatchewan. They have spread like wildfire, causing destruction to property, killing other animals, wreaking havoc in habitats and even posing a threat to humans along their way. Steer clear of these guys!

Gulls

gull in ontario

Sometimes known as the “pirates of the seashore” these swooping white birds are well recognized as thieves of a sea-side meal. But gulls will also target Brown Pelicans. They’re not very common in Canada but they can sometimes be spotted as far north as British Columbia and Nova Scotia too. These pelicans catch fish in their throats and hold them there until they can land. When the Brown Pelican touches the ground, gulls swoop in and steal the fish straight out of the pelican’s mouth! Thieving little gulls!

Sperm Whales

sperm whale

Depending on whose side you take, the sperm whale could be considered a bully: of humans! Sperm Whales have been recorded sitting near fishing boats, seemingly without a care in the world. But when the nets get pulled up, the 40 tonne whale moves with surprising speed, snatching up the fisherman’s catch for their own dinner! Some might say that humans have it coming but hey, that’s still surprisingly sneaky for Sperm Whales.

What Did You Do This Summer? Well, Here’s Some of What We Did…

As the largest supporter-based conservation charity in Canada, we thought we’d report back to you on some of what we’ve accomplished during the 2018 summer conservation field work season. There were both successes and failures, but all of the work we do helps further our understanding of these species in order to best conserve Canada’s wildlife.

Helping the American Eel

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Aquatic Science Team conducted research on the American Eel in the Ottawa River this summer. Eels face many challenges, and their populations have declined dramatically in recent years. Our summer research included:

  • Determining downstream migratory routes the eels take while passing the Chaudière Falls Generating Station by placing 40 acoustic receivers in the water upstream and downstream of the falls. This helped target large eels that are ready to make their downstream journey back to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea.
  • Counting their numbers to determine how many of these at-risk species there are in the area. We did this two ways:
    • Trap netting, where we caught over 3,600 fish and identified 22 different species (sadly, we only found one eel).
    • Night time boat electrofishing which temporarily stuns the fish. It may sound extreme but they were not hurt and it really is critical that we learn how many eel remain as this species is dwindling quickly. This research provided more insight into how we can protect — and ideally restore — the population back to its original numbers.

Learn more about river barriers and how they affect our aquatic species.

Love Your Lake

This summer was busy with Love Your Lake shoreline health assessments. The 2018 summer season brought the program total to 157 lakes and approximately 37,830 shoreline properties! Thanks to our seven regional partners spread across three provinces, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and national partner Watersheds Canada were able to:

  • Be active on 18 lakes in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • Assess the shoreline health of approximately 3,570 waterfront properties.

In early 2019, the shoreline property owners on these lakes will receive a personalized shoreline property report with details on the state of their shoreline and recommended actions for improving the health of their shoreline.

For more information on the joint CWF and Watersheds Canada Love Your Lake program, please visit LoveYourLake.ca

Helping the Bats

The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s bat team worked hard this spring and summer to promote bat conservation. The goal of this program is to ensure the long-term survival of Canada’s at-risk bats. A large portion of our season focused on bats that inhabit anthropogenic structures, like barns or attics.

CWF had the pleasure of teaming up with some wonderful students from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University to promote bat conservation. Our summer research included:

  • Developing and disseminating Best Management Practices and Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Identifing maternity roosts that contain Endangered Little Brown Myotis so we can understand what habitats might need protecting.
  • Collecting biophysical data of the roosts in order to advise on preferred habitat creation and recovery strategy.
  • Testing the effectiveness of different bat house designs to determine the best designs for different species and different areas such as urban versus rural.
  • Promoting bat observations via citizen science, and outreach to our communities across the country.

By getting the word out there and learning the best ways to help these at-risk species, we’re hoping to reduce the amount of times their habitats are destroyed, and of course, reduce the impact habitat destruction has on these mammals. We continue to work to support Through effective messaging, outreach, and management strategies, we hope to reduce the frequency and impacts of habitat destruction and support the health, recovery, and survival of at-risk bats.

Learn more about Canada’s bats at HelptheBats.ca

Helping the Turtles

The Canadian Wildlife Federation turtle team was very busy this year! Our field work season included:

  • Conducting surveys for the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Our goal was to find new locations which included this declining species in order to increase the amount of protected habitat. In so doing, we received permission from many land owners to surveys wetlands on their property and found Blanding’s Turtles in 10 different private and government-owned wetlands.
  • Surveying roads to find frequent turtle road-kill locations. Identifying these locations can help us push for road mitigation — such as wildlife fencing — in these sections of road. This would protect turtles and other wildlife. This year we found over 500 dead turtles on the roads around the Ottawa area, including over 60 dead Blanding’s Turtles.
  • Collecting turtle eggs that were laid in at risk locations, such as roadsides. By collecting and incubating the eggs and releasing the hatchlings back at the nearest wetland, we helped to compensate for the number of turtles killed on roads. The eggs were successfully incubated and we released almost 400 Blanding’s and Snapping Turtle hatchlings!

Learn more about our turtle work at HelptheTurtles.ca

Helping the Birds

This year, the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Biologist Nathan Clements spent 10 days traversing the Queen Maud Gulf region of Nunavut. His work included:

  • Banding of Greater White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese in order to monitor Arctic and sub-Arctic geese and their migrations throughout the continent. More than 2,500 geese were banded, which is slightly above the banding program targets set by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture.

The lead organization, the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (AGJV), works cooperatively with partners to provide a coordinated and cost-effective approach to meeting high priority information needs for the management of northern-nesting geese. The Canadian Wildlife Federation is a supporting partner of the AGJV, along with the Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, state and provincial wildlife agencies of all four flyways, and other non-government organizations. This partnership approach is especially valuable for conducting Arctic research where logistics are more costly and where maximum return from available funds is highly desirable.

Helping the Salmon

The Canadian Wildlife Federation, along with Carleton University, Carcross/Tagish First Nation, and the Yukon Energy Corporation, is studying the migration of Chinook Salmon in the furthest reaches of their run near Whitehorse. These fish have travelled nearly 3,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea. They face many challenges during their spawning migration. Compared to historic records, populations have been depleted for decades and we are undertaking research to find out why and what we can do to help. Chinook are the king of the Pacific Salmon, and this is a very special population of the species. We take care to minimize the effects of our research on the individuals that we encounter, and are honoured to work with the local community towards their conservation.

For the past two summer seasons, we have been:

  • Implanting fish with acoustic transmitters
  • Tracking their movements as they approach the Whitehorse Hydro Plant, pass the world’s longest fish ladder, and continue to their spawning grounds.
  • Tagging as many fish as we can. Thus far we have tagged 138 fish. We will know how they fared by mid-September once their spawning run is complete and we retrieve data from our acoustic telemetry array.

Read more about this work.

Helping the Pollinators

To investigate the role of natural habitats on wild pollinators, the Canadian Wildlife Federation initiated a three year study in Norfolk County, Ontario. The goal of the project is to examine the relationship between the diversity and abundance of insect pollinators and three habitat types: forest, hedgerow, and grassy field margins.

Conserving a diversity of beneficial insects, like bees and hoverflies, in intensively cropped systems is important for providing ecosystem services to farmers such as pollination. We believe that natural habitats such as forests and hedgerows likely play a significant conservation role within intensively managed agricultural landscapes.

Summer 2018 was our first field season, where we were:

  • Collected pollinating insects using specialized traps on 11 farms in Norfolk County, southern Ontario. Each trap collected thousands of insects that then had to be sorted and identified by hand.
  • Compared the results of hand identified insect samples to results using DNA barcoding. If DNA barcoding gives us similar results to hand identification we will have a fast and efficient way to determine abundance and diversity of pollinators in different types of habitats on agricultural lands. The hope is that we can provide advice to farmers on what types of natural habitats will be good for farming and good for wildlife.

Results of the research will be shared with farmers and governments to inspire sustainable agricultural practices, policies and programs.

Helping Whales

Using our knowledge of whale biology and basic principles of collision impacts, we are developing a computer model to predict whether the forces on a whale during a collision with a ship could cause serious harm. The computer model will take into account specific features of Right Whales (e.g. blubber thickness) and of small vessels (e.g. ship weight). This new collision impact prediction tool will provide industry and regulators with the ability to explore how the risk of harm to right whales from small vessel strikes changes depending on the size, speed, and design of the vessel.

Ultimately this work will lead to recommendations on how the risk may be avoided. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. We will have the opportunity to expand this work in more detail as we better establish the important factors to consider during collisions, and to suggest how the risk may be reduced.

Learn more about marine animal response in Canada at the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance website.

We Have So Much More to Do

With the financial support from our dedicated donors, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has been able to make leaps and strides in wildlife conservation in Canada. But with increasing habitat loss and a climate that is quickly changing, Canada’s wildlife needs your support more than ever.

Thank you for caring about Canada’s wildlife and please consider supporting the work we do.

A Red Tide of Death for Turtles

Since October, hundreds of dead and sickened sea turtles have been washing ashore on the beaches of Southwest Florida.

The cause? An annually occurring natural phenomenon known as Red Tide.

red tide california
A Red Tide near La Jolla, California.

What is Red Tide?

Red Tide is the result of excessive growth of the algae Karenia brevis. As the name suggests, it often turns the sea a rusty red colour.

So what is it that makes Red Tide so deadly? The red algae produces a chemical that is toxic to marine organisms. This can be fatal when the algae is present in great enough quantities.

This year has been worse than most for the seasonal algal bloom. Most blooms begin in the late fall and dissipate by April. Sadly, this Red Tide is still going strong well into the summer. It is suspected to remain a problem for several months to come.

CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife)
CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife), Florida

At-Risk Sea Turtles Dying

Two at-risk sea turtles are most affected by this Red Tide: Loggerhead and Kemp Ridley. Many of the turtles found on beaches have been adults — part of what makes this bloom so devastating to their conservation. Turtles can take between 25 to 30 years to reach maturity, and will lay thousands of eggs over decades. Only about one in 1,000 of these eggs will survive to adulthood. So the death of so many adults has the potential to stunt the recovery of these protected sea turtles for decades to come.

Red Tide isn’t the only type of algal bloom that poses a risk to wildlife. While you won’t see a Red Tide in freshwater, you may have observed scummy, foamy or discoloured water in a pond or lake near you. These unsightly features are also caused by algae blooms.

Freshwater algal bloom
Freshwater algae blooms may produce toxins, but can also lead to anoxia.

Freshwater Algal Blooms

Freshwater algae blooms may produce toxins, but can also lead to anoxia (a depletion of oxygen available in the water) when the algae dies and decomposes — killing fish. These blooms can also be harmful to humans, and can irritate the skin and eyes of swimmers or even make you sick.

Caused by Humans

There are some human-caused factors that may in part be responsible for the severity of this year’s Red Tide.

  1. Climate change has been increasing ocean temperatures worldwide, favouring algae growth.
  2. Nutrient pollution is largely the result of human activities, like farming, where fertilizers can contaminate nearby water through run-off. Nutrient pollution increases levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, and provides algae with the food it needs to grow out of control.

Prevented by Humans

Luckily there are some things we can all do to help prevent nutrient pollution:

  • Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn or garden.
  • If you have a septic system, ensure that it is properly maintained, so that leaking sewage doesn’t contaminate local bodies of water.
  • Use phosphate-free detergents, cleaning products and personal care products.
  • Build a shoreline buffer on your property using native vegetation to intercept contaminants.

Learn other ways you can help using CWF’s Love Your Lake Shoreline Property Resources. Or, learn more about our turtles at HelpTheTurtles.ca.

The Good, the Bad and the Invasive

Did you know that the second largest threat to biodiversity is invasive species?

That’s right after habitat loss.

Non-native species can come from other countries or from right here in Canada. And while some of these non-native species can actually be beneficial, some can be invasive – becoming predators, competitors, parasites, and can even bring diseases to our native wildlife. With few predators they can spread rapidly and can:

  • Reduce biodiversity
  • Disrupt food webs
  • Degrade habitat
  • Impact species health
  • Interfere with our recreational activities
  • Cause major economic damage

Once established, they are difficult to control or eradicate and their impacts are often irreversible.

Let’s all do our part to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species and protect our lakes! Read more at LoveYourLake.ca blog.

On a Collision Course: CWF Investigates Small Vessel Impact on North Atlantic Right Whales

For the North Atlantic Right Whale — one of the most critically endangered baleen whales in the world — 2017 proved to be a terrible year.

In 2017, at least 13 dead whales were recorded in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – likely representing the highest mortality since commercial whaling of this species was banned in 1937. For a population with fewer than 500 individuals remaining, this modern unprecedented loss has severe negative implications on population stability and potential population recovery.

In other words, this animal could go extinct very soon.

Whales are are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels.
Whales are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels.

Whales are Big. Boats are Bigger.

North Atlantic Right Whales migrate up and down waters off the eastern coast of the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most heavily trafficked areas for shipping in North America. Although right whales are among the largest animals in the sea and can weigh up to 96 tonnes, they are dwarfed by large ocean-going vessels (e.g. container or cargo carriers) and stand little chance of survival when struck.

Recognizing this, efforts have been made to decrease the number of whales struck by large vessels, including rerouting shipping lanes around areas where whales are known to occur (i.e. critical habitats), and imposing speed restrictions on vessels travelling through these areas.

Less is known about the impact small vessels have on right whales
Less is known about the impact small vessels have on right whales.

Researching Small Vessel Impacts

Less is known about the impact small vessels (e.g. fishing boats) have on right whales. In particular, whether such a collision could harm or kill a whale. CWF is working to answer this question.

Using our knowledge of whale physiology and basic principles of collision mechanics, we will use computer models to predict whether the forces on the whales during these collisions could cause serious harm. The computer model we are building will take into account specific features of Right Whales (e.g. blubber thickness) and of small vessels (e.g. ship weight). This new collission impact prediction tool will provide industry and regulators with the ability to explore how the risk of harm to right whales from small vessel stikes changes depending on the size, speed, and design of the vessel.

To protect North Atlantic Right Whales and recover the population, we have to look at all potential human activities, including small vessel strikes, quantify the risk and take action to eliminate any impacts. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. This project will establish the important forces to consider during collisions and estimate the possible impacts on Right Whales.

Ultimately this work will lead to recommendations on how the risk may be avoided. This requires good science, backed up with real numbers. We will have the opportunity to expand this work in more detail as we better establish the important measureable forces during collisions, and to suggest how the risk may be mitigated.

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s work in Canada’s Coasts & Oceans or Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance.

Modernizing the Fisheries Act

Canada’s Fisheries Act has now been re-jigged and cast to the Senate for final review before becoming law.

While that’s something to celebrate, there are still a few lines that need to be strengthened to ensure the conservation of fish and their habitats. The Canadian Wildlife Federation applauds the changes to the Fisheries Act which passed third reading in the House of Commons on June 19.

fishing on a river

The top improvements include:

  • Reinstating the long-standing prohibition against the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat
  • Protecting all fish species
  • Expanding the protection of fish habitat to include water quality and quantity
  • Requiring actions to rebuild fish stocks that have declined significantly

CWF is also pleased that some important provisions added in 2012 will be retained, such as prohibiting activities that cause harm to fish habitat and regulations designed to deal with aquatic invasive species.

© Fisheries and Oceans Canada
© Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Good Catch

Bill C-68 significantly modernizes the protection of fish habitat by recognizing that water quality and quantity, including the timing of changes to water flows, are part of fish habitat. Previously, the protection of fish habitat was focused on the area of things like sand, rock, gravel, mud, reef, or aquatic vegetation used by fish for spawning and feeding grounds.

But fish live in a three-dimensional world, and cannot use spawning habitat if it is not covered with the right amount of clean water at the right time of year. This important change to the federal Fisheries Act better aligns the definition of fish habitat with how scientists (and fish) understand habitat.

Fish

The Better Net

Another important improvement to the Act is the creation of a public registry to improve transparency for projects authorized under the Fisheries Act. This will help hold proponents accountable, including developers, mining companies, forestry companies, municipalities and others that impact fish habitat.

This amendment will also let stakeholders know what steps are being taken to reduce harm and compensate for any unavoidable destruction or alteration of fish habitat.

While these are great improvements, the public registry will not cover hundreds of other projects that occur each year that cause harm but don’t receive an authorization and thousands of projects that have the potential to cause harm if best practices are not followed.

CWF cautions that all projects with the potential to cause harm should be registered so that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and concerned citizens can verify that best practices are being followed. This is also critical to monitoring changes to fish habitat over time.

CWF is also concerned about the lack of clarity on how the cumulative effects of small projects will be handled under the amended Fisheries Act. When all of these projects are added together, the cumulative harm to fish habitat can be massive in some areas. Many of our urban rivers and streams are in trouble precisely because of this type of death by a thousand cuts.

Yet under Bill C-68, how the impacts of small or “low-risk” projects will be dealt with has been left to the future development of new regulations. It remains unclear how these regulations will work, and CWF is concerned that small but harmful projects will continue to accumulate in our watersheds without a plan to address their combined impacts.

CWF is proposing amendments to Bill C-68 that would allow small projects that alter or destroy fish habitat to be registered online and receive a permit along with an outline of best management practices which must be followed. As part of the permit, those undertaking small projects would buy credits from a habitat bank or pay a fee to support large-scale restoration projects in the same area that would offset harm and provide net benefits for fish and fish habitat.

The Extended Line

Connectivity is another key element of fish habitat that is not clearly addressed under the Fisheries Act.
Fish use different habitats during different seasons and life stages, and need to be able to move between these areas to thrive or sometimes even survive. Though changes have been made to provisions governing fish passage, the fundamental approach has not changed.

It remains at the discretion of Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans whether to require fish passage, such as a fish ladder, at any project that obstructs fish movement. This discretion has rarely been exercised in the past. For instance, only two per cent of dams in Ontario provide a fish passageway.

More clarity is needed about how fish passage will be restored and maintained under the amended Fisheries Act.

The Reel Deal

Canada’s Fisheries Act is much improved but still needs to reel in a few big fish.

CWF supports efforts by the Senate and the Government of Canada to modernize the Fisheries Act by passing Bill C-68. As they do, we call on them to provide clarity on how it will protect and restores fish passage and address the cumulative effects of small projects that destroy fish habitat.

See how the Canadian Wildlife Federation sees a brighter future for Canada’s freshwater and marine wildlife thanks to proposed changes to Fisheries Act (Feb 2018 Press Release).

Tropical Sea Turtles in Canada!?

Laura Newman is a participant in Group 2 of the Canadian Conservation Corps. She writes of her experience in her field learning placement.

It’s true! Every summer our waters are invaded by gentle giants from the south!

I didn’t know much about Leatherback Sea Turtles before getting to Halifax. But, in a short amount of time, I’ve learned that they’re pretty cool: they’re huge, they’re ancient and they’re endangered.

Leatherback sea turtles migrate up to Atlantic Canada in the summertime, all the way from South America. They don’t have any teeth, but they have spikes in their esophagus that help them eat their favourite food — jellyfish! They can eat their weight in jellyfish everyday, and that’s really saying something because the average adult Leatherback Sea Turtle can weigh 450 kilograms!

Getting to Know Leatherbacks

Laura and Colin holding leatherback
Laura with fellow Group 2 participant Colin Horton at their phase 2 learning placement in Halifax. © Robyn Murphy

We arrived in Halifax a couple of days ago, and were warmly welcomed by Kathleen, one of the founders of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network. We have already begun training at the Sea Turtle Centre, which is right downtown in the harbour. We have learned all kinds of interesting things.

These turtles are extra cool because instead of having a scaly shell like most turtles, theirs is covered by a leathery skin. They can hold their breath for an hour, and they have been known to dive as deep as one kilometre underwater — deeper than any other sea turtle. They’ve also been around for about 100,000,000 years!

Leatherback Sea Turtles are gentle giants who don’t have much in the way of natural predators in the ocean. But one of their biggest threats as adults is getting caught up in fishing gear. This is why The Canadian Sea Turtle Network works closely with fishermen to help save these awesome creatures.

How We Can Help

Leatherback turtle feeding on a jellyfish (PHOTO)
Leatherback turtle feeding on a jellyfish (PHOTO)

Some of the things that we can do as individuals to help the sea turtles are to use less plastic and avoid plastic bags — a lot of our plastic garbage ends up in the ocean, and sea turtles can’t tell the difference between your old grocery bag and a nice, tasty jellyfish.

Blow bubbles instead of balloons. Trust me, I love balloons as much as the next person, they’re colourful and fun and they remind me of birthday parties! Eventually, though, they pop and then they land somewhere they don’t belong — in waterways and oceans, just like plastic bags. Blowing bubbles instead is a harmless and fun alternative!

I’m looking forward to learning more as I continue with my placement!

Like turtles? Learn more about turtles at HelpTheTurtles.ca