Original St. Lawrence River population of Striped Bass declared extinct

We’re heartbroken to hear that the original St. Lawrence River population of Striped Bass has been declared extinct in COSEWIC’s latest Wildlife Species Assessment. However, this sad news only strengthens our resolve to protect the biodiversity in our watershed.

Earlier this month, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) released the results of their latest Wildlife Species Assessment, following meetings that took place in Ottawa at the end of November. Among the species assessed, was the original St. Lawrence River Striped Bass, one of three distinct Striped Bass populations found in Canada. Based on COSEWIC’s findings, this particular subset of Striped Bass, which historically lived in the St. Lawrence, is sadly now considered extinct.

A victim of overfishing and habitat degradation, the last known Striped Bass of the original St. Lawrence population was caught in 1968. In 2002, Striped Bass from the Miramichi River in New Brunswick were released into the St. Lawrence in an attempt to re-establish a reproducing population. However, it was determined that these Miramichi Striped Bass belong to the Gulf of St. Lawrence subset, different from those originally found in the St. Lawrence. So, while you can still find Striped Bass in the St. Lawrence River, they are not of the same population that historically called the river home.

While no Striped Bass live in the Ottawa River, four other species of bass do including Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Rock Bass and White Bass. The fate of the original St. Lawrence River Striped Bass highlights the importance of advocating for and working to protect the natural populations of species found within our river and watershed. These local populations often provide vitally important diversity to the overall gene pool of a species.

Ottawa Riverkeeper has embarked on a number of projects to protect our most vulnerable species. For several years we have been working to protect the presence of the American Eel in the Ottawa River. The American Eel is a unique species of eel which spawns in the Sargasso Sea then migrates to mature in the Ottawa River, where it has held strong cultural importance to the Algonquin people for thousands of years. Over the past half-century there has been a dramatic decline in the number of American Eel found in the Ottawa River, with populations decreasing by 99% largely due to the construction of dams that block its migratory route.

More recently we launched an initiative to survey the Hickorynut, a freshwater mussel recently added to Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The Ottawa River has the largest known density of Hickorynut in Canada, and it is important to learn more about the conditions that let it thrive in order to better protect the species at large. This is work we would not be able to do without the support of the entire Ottawa Riverkeeper community. Hopefully, with our continued efforts, a similar fate will not befall these amazing animals.

If you’re interested in the results of all the species assessed at the latest COSEWIC meeting you can find a summary table here: http://www.cosewic.ca/index.php/en-ca/assessment-process/summary-wsam-nov2019.

And to read COSEWIC’s press release on the original St. Lawrence River Striped Bass see their website here: http://www.cosewic.ca/index.php/en-ca/news-and-events/press-release-striped-bass-nov-2019.

Cover image: Timothy Knepp, USFWS