Species Profile

Rainbow Smelt Lake Utopia large-bodied population

Scientific Name: Osmerus mordax
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: New Brunswick
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2018
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This population of smelt is the larger of a divergent species-pair endemic to a lake in southwestern New Brunswick. Its persistence is dependent on the ecological conditions that gave rise to the divergence of the species-pair from a single ancestor. Changing predator and prey environment through recent and potential invasive species, and hybridization with the smaller member of this species-pair threaten the long-term viability of the species-pair.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in November 2008. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2019-08-08

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Description

Named for the lake in southwestern New Brunswick in which they live, the large-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) are freshwater fish that belong to the smelt family (Osmeridae). Lake Utopia is also home to a small-bodied population of rainbow smelt. The large- and small-bodied populations exist together as a species pair. These populations have different physical features, use different spawning streams, spawn at slightly different times and are genetically different. They are recognized as a rare example of 2 populations of the same species that live together, but have evolved differently (sympatric). Although the large- and small-bodied populations are genetically different, some hybridization (breeding between populations) is known to occur. The large-bodied population has the following features: slender, streamlined, slightly laterally compressed body (flattened from side to side); elongated head and pointed snout; back is pale green to dark blue; sides are silver with blue, purple and pink iridescence (a shimmer of glittering and changeable colours); belly is silvery white; tail fin is deeply forked; small adipose fin (soft fleshy fin found on the back and located between dorsal fin and tail fin); typically greater than 170 mm fork length (the length of a fish measured from the tip of the snout to the end of the middle tail fin rays); and prior to spawning, males develop tubercles (small, rounded bumps) on the head, body and fins. The large-bodied population’s features differ from those of the small-bodied population in the following ways. The large-bodied population has: a longer body length at maturity (small-bodied length is typically less than 170 mm fork length and large-bodied length is greater or equal to 170 mm fork length); relatively smaller eyes; a relatively larger upper jaw; and fewer gill rakers (internal projections off the gill arch, involved in filter feeding).

Top

Distribution and Population

The large-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt occurs in a single lake in the Magaguadavic River system in southwestern New Brunswick, Lake Utopia and 3 of its streams: Mill Lake Stream, Trout Lake Stream, and Spear Brook. The main tributary stream that the large-bodied population uses for spawning, Mill Lake Stream, is located on the northeastern side of the lake. Other potential spawning streams include Trout Lake Stream and Spear Brook, also located on the northeastern side of the lake. Mill Lake Stream averages 4 m wide and less than 1 m deep. Smelt passage to Mill Lake is prevented by a dam. Trout Lake Stream averages 10 m wide and has slow-moving water and deep pools. Spear Brook is about 4 m wide with a low gradient and an extensively braided outlet into Trout Lake as a result of beaver damming activities.

Top

Habitat

Lake Utopia is a 14 km² cold-water and oligotrophic (low nutrient) lake that is typically frozen from early December until early April. Little is known about how the various life stages of large-bodied smelt use habitats within Lake Utopia. In other lakes, resident rainbow smelt populations tend to occupy cooler, deeper waters of the lake, except during the spring spawning season when adult spawners migrate to spawning streams.

Top

Biology

In Lake Utopia, large-bodied smelt spawn between late March and mid-April. Spawning lasts for 5 to 10 days. During the spawning season, they begin to move into the streams around dusk and continue to migrate upstream throughout the night. Peak migration typically occurs after midnight. Most smelt move back into the lake just before dawn; however, some males may remain. Smelt eggs are sticky and cling to silt and gravel, rocks and underwater vegetation, which aids in preventing them from being swept away by the water current. At the completion of the spawning season, fish migrate back into deeper areas of the lake. Eggs develop in the streams for 20 to 26 days depending on water temperature. After hatching, the tiny fish (fry) drift downstream into Lake Utopia. During their early development, the large-bodied population feeds mainly on zooplankton and later feed on small fish. The generation time for both large- and small-bodied smelt is approximately 3 years and their lifespan is approximately 6 years. Predators of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt include landlocked Atlantic salmon, brook trout and aquatic invasive species, like chain pickerel and smallmouth bass.

Top

Threats

Threats to the large-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt resulting from human activities fall under 4 main categories: direct mortality, changing water levels, loss of quality habitat and poor water quality. All of these threats have the potential to negatively impact Lake Utopia rainbow smelt production by directly impacting individuals, impacting their lake or spawning stream habitat or limiting access to their spawning streams. Given their limited spawning habitat, they are particularly vulnerable to activities that impact, or limit access to, their spawning streams. Threats of greatest concern are predation by aquatic invasive species, water level fluctuations in Lake Utopia impeding access to their spawning streams, flooding of the spawning streams and forestry and other land-altering activities near spawning habitat (e.g., road construction). Other threats of concern include effluent (liquid waste) discharge or other nutrient and chemical inputs and all-terrain vehicles and foot traffic impacting the spawning streams.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

The Rainbow Smelt, Lake Utopia large-bodied population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The large-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt was listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) on August 16, 2019. The small-bodied population was listed as threatened under SARA on June 6, 2003 and both populations are also protected under the Fisheries Act. The large- and small-bodied populations of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt were assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as threatened in 2008. Both populations were re-assessed by COSEWIC in 2018 as endangered. A status change from threatened to endangered is currently being considered under SARA.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Recovery Progress and Activities

The recreational dip-net fishery for both populations of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt was closed in 2011 and recreational angling for Lake Utopia rainbow smelt was closed in 2013. Given the co-dependence of the large- and small-bodied populations, a recovery strategy has been developed for both populations with a broad recovery goal of maintaining the existing distribution and abundance of both populations and the genetic diversity of this Lake Utopia rainbow smelt sympatric species pair. An action plan is being developed to support implementation of the recovery strategy. There is a proposed version of the action plan posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry. Now that the large-bodied Lake Utopia rainbow smelt has been listed under SARA, the recovery strategy and the action plan will be amended to be compliant under the Species at Risk Act for the large-bodied population. Various recovery actions including research, monitoring and outreach have been undertaken to date by DFO, Indigenous groups, academic partners, provincial departments, and industry partners. For example, new information has been generated about population abundance, spawning and rearing habitat use, the genetic structure of the large- and small-bodied populations, and invasive species interactions. Also, signs have been posted near the spawning streams to raise awareness about the Lake Utopia rainbow smelt and its habitat.

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

14 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax), Lake Utopia large-bodied population and the Lake Utopia small-bodied population, in Canada (2019-10-09)

    The Lake Utopia smelt constitute a genetically divergent pair of Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax endemic to a lake in southwestern New Brunswick. In general, smelt are small (typically less than 30 cm in total length), slender pelagic fish that vary in colour from pale green to dark blue on the back, and whose sides display a rainbow of blue, purple and pink iridescence. Note: This COSEWIC assessment was received by the Minister on October 15th, 2018.
  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax in Canada (2009-08-28)

    The Lake Utopia smelt constitute a genetically divergent pair of Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax endemic to a lake in southwestern New Brunswick. In general, smelt are small (typically less than 30 cm in total length), slender pelagic fish that vary in colour from pale green to dark blue on the back, and whose sides display a rainbow of blue, purple and pink iridescence. Smelt are north temperate fish capable of living in both freshwater and saltwater. Smelt that permanently reside in freshwater environments occur in a variety of morphologically, ecologically, and genetically differentiated populations, some of which occupy the same geographical location and are reproductively isolated from each other. The sympatric pair of smelt in Lake Utopia, New Brunswick consists of two such distinct populations that behave as separate species: a Small-bodied population and a Large-bodied population. Similar putative sympatric pairs are reported from a few other lakes in eastern North America, but molecular genetic data indicate that each pair has evolved independently by parallel evolution.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Rainbow Smelt, Lake Utopia large-bodied population (2009-11-25)

    This population is part of a genetically divergent sympatric pair of Osmerus that is endemic to a single lake in Canada with an extremely small index of area of occupancy (6 sq. km). It spawns in only three (3) small streams in the watershed and could quickly become extinct through degradation of spawning streams from increasing development around the lake shore and impacts of the dip-net fishery. This population is threatened by introduction of exotic species and by increasing eutrophication.
  • Response Statement - Rainbow Smelt, Lake Utopia large-bodied population (2020) (2020-01-07)

    This population of smelt is the larger of a divergent species-pair endemic to a lake in southwestern New Brunswick. Its persistence is dependent on the ecological conditions that gave rise to the divergence of the species-pair from a single ancestor. Changing predator and prey environment through recent and potential invasive species, and hybridization with the smaller member of this species-pair threaten the long-term viability of the species-pair.

Orders

  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (Volume 153, Number 17, 2019) (2019-08-21)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining at all scales, from local to global, as a result of a variety of human activities that increase the rates of species extinction. Current extinction rates are estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural background rate. Higher species diversity positively supports healthy and productive ecosystems that are more resilient to disturbances, and, given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to a declining resilience of ecosystem functions and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, pharmaceutical products, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are vital to the health of all Canadians and are important for Canada’s economic well-being. Biodiversity loss can therefore result in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects on Canadians.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (Volume 154, Number 4, January 25 2020) (2020-10-28)

    The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) completed reassessments of the status of three aquatic wildlife species: Carmine Shiner, Rainbow Smelt (Lake Utopia large-bodied population) and Rainbow Smelt (Lake Utopia small-bodied population). These three species are currently listed as threatened on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (Schedule 1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), but have been reassessed by COSEWIC and designated as endangered.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2009 (2009-08-28)

    2009 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2018 to 2019 (2019-10-09)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 56 wildlife species, 2 of which were assigned a status of not at risk. Of these 56, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 25 wildlife species; of these, the majority (80%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 799 wildlife species in various risk categories including 356 endangered, 189 threatened, 232 special concern, and 22 extirpated (that is, no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as extinct, 59 wildlife species have been designated as data deficient, and 199 have been assessed as not at risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#19-PMAR-00036 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-10-28)

    This permit compliments the previous permit for Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (small-bodied population), DFO-MAR-2019-10, due to Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (large-bodied population), being recently listed as Threatened on August 21, 2019. Stock ~3400 yearling landlocked salmon into Lake Utopia is part of the a Fish Stocking Program for recreational purposes. Stocking landlocked salmon into Lake Utopia has been conducted since the early 1980's. Typically it is done every two years in the spring as a one-time event. The stocking rate has remained at the same level since the 1980's. Stocking is maintained at a rate that minimizes severe predatory impacts to the Lake Utopia rainbow smelt (LURS) population (small bodies population). Fish are also disease tested before released to ensure that there is no implications from disease transfer. The activities authorized by this permit consist of fish stocking of landlocked salmon.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#20-PMAR-00001 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2020-03-18)

    Researchers proposes to identify the potential usage of important spawning habitat in Trout Lake Stream-Spear Brook System by Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt - Large-bodied population (LURS-LbP) to bridge current knowledge gaps in the recovery strategy for Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (LURS) and the future designation of critical habitats. The research will consist of; remote camera monitoring of the culvert between Lake Utopia and Trout Lake Stream and Spear Brook, dip netting for LURS-LbP eggs, conducting visual surveys and plankton net surveys in Trout Lake Stream and Spear Brook. The activities authorized by this permit consist of: Use of remote cameras with lights; Dip netting LURS-LbP eggs; and Use of Plankton nets.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#20-PMAR-00002 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2020-05-12)

    The objective of this project will be to sample LURS populations and determine the amount of hybridization occurring between the two populations. Up to 100 individual Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt -large bodied population (LURS-LbP) will be sampled from the following watercourses: Mill Lake Stream, Second Brook, Smelt Brook and Unnamed tributary to Lake Utopia during the spawning run for LURS LbP. Ideally, the sampling will be length stratified. This will indicate non-hybridization as the two species should be segregated through differences in spawning times and locations. Dip netting will be conducted from the bank and only the net will enter the water. Care will be taken to take samples from various life stages of both species but not from actively spawning fish. Egg mats observed in stream will also be avoided. Tissue samples will be taken from LURS-LbP during their respective sampling runs. Fish will be sampled by dip net and will be returned to the water immediately after fork length is measured and their adipose fin is clipped. Only a small number of fish will be dipped at a time to decrease trauma and handling time. Fish caught will be placed in a container of water, a fin will be clipped, and fish will be released immediately back into the water where they were found. The activities authorized by this permit for LURS-LbP consist of: Dip netting; Measuring and fin clipping; and Collection of dead individuals.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#20-PMAR-00004 ), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2020-05-12)

    Researchers are proposing to conduct monitoring on Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, Large-bodied population (LURS-LbP) and Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, Small-bodied Population (LURS-SbP). The study area will include Lake Utopia, Mill Lake Stream, Second Brook, Smelt Brook and an unnamed tributary to Lake Utopia The research on LURS includes daytime visual monitoring from the banks for individuals and eggs of LURS-LbP and LURS-SbP. Technicians will monitor the presence of obstructions and barriers to passage for LURS and document via GPS coordinates. Four (4) temperature data loggers will be placed in various stream locations. Temperature data loggers will be placed in plastic pipes, situated on the bottom of the stream, and tied to the shore by a tether. The tree the tether is attached to will be marked with flagging tape. This activity also involves measuring water depth inside the primary culvert at Mill Lake Stream each time this stream is checked for smelt and eggs. Researchers will opportunistically collect dead LURS (SbP and LbP) that wash up on shore while conducting monitoring. The dead fish will be sent back to DFO Science to be used for genetic analysis of LURS. Genetic analyses of tissue samples may indicate the occurrence of hybrids in the two populations. Hybridization is the primary threat to the continued co-occurrence of the two populations, but it is unknown why circumstances have changed. The activities authorized by this permit for LURS-LbP consist of: Collection of dead individuals.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#21-PMAR-00007), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2021-03-22)

    Research is being conducted on the potential utilization of important spawning habitat by Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (Large-bodied population-LURS-LbP) in the Trout Lake Stream-Spear Brook System. Research will be undertaken to determine the number and condition of spawning adult LURS-LbP in the system, as well as the presence of eggs and larvae. Research activities include remote underwater camera monitoring for presence of adult fish as well as eggs, dep netting for eggs, plankton net surveys for capture of LURS-LbP larvae, and land based visual surveys of Spear Brook. All activities will be conducted twice a week from March 15 - May 7, 2021. Only non-motorized vehicles (canoes) will be used to access the study areas. The study area will include the culvert between the Lake Utopia and Trout Lake Stream and the first 300m of Spear Brook, to the southern end of Trout Lake. The activities authorized by this permit consist of: Use of underwater cameras with lights; Dip netting of LURS-LbP eggs; and Use of Plankton nets to capture LURS-LbP larvae.

Consultation Documents

Date modified: