Lake Sturgeon in deeper trouble than previously thought


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Daniel Kraus
Director of National Conservation

Claire Farrell
Science and Youth Coordinator

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Freshwater fish Freshwater Biodiversity

Published

2022-12-15

Northern Ontario is one of the last strongholds for a species now considered endangered worldwide.

As CoP15 negotiations continue in Montreal around actions to address the global biodiversity crisis, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has issued some bad news on one particular species. In a recent update, the IUCN has announced a change to the global Red List status of lake sturgeon, from “least concern” to “endangered.” This puts the lake sturgeon in the same category as many better-known threatened wildlife such as the mountain gorilla, sea otter and African savannah elephant.

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This jump in the odds of extinction for one of the planet’s oldest fish species is a reminder of how much is at stake in the negotiations in Montreal. For lake sturgeon, the rivers in the far north in Ontario may hold some of their last best chances for survival. Assessed as a species of “special concern” in the far north in Ontario, Lake Sturgeon thrive in intact rivers flowing into Hudson and James Bay. Living here are some of the last remaining abundant populations of Lake Sturgeon globally.

However, these same rivers may be impacted by new mines, roads or hydropower developments and without care and planning we could see a similar slide toward extinction for Lake Sturgeon in northern Ontario, and the rest of Canada where populations remain.

According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), the Canadian range of lake sturgeon stretches from the North and South Saskatchewan rivers in Alberta in the west, to the St. Lawrence River estuary in the east, and from various rivers that empty into Hudson Bay in the north to several boundary waters (e.g., Rainy River, Great Lakes) in the south.

The recent update the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has now classified 221 species found in Canada as at risk of globally extinction, and an additional 107 species as ‘near threatened’. WCS Canada has been undertaking field-based research on Lake Sturgeon in Ontario for a number of years and is working closely with the Moose Cree First Nation on stewardship efforts for the ancient fish. WCS Canada is working to conserve Canada’s Red List species across the country in our field programs and through the efforts of KBA Canada to identify and map the habitat for our most threatened species.

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