Species Profile

Rainbow Smelt Lake Utopia small-bodied population

Scientific Name: Osmerus mordax
Other/Previous Names: Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt ,Osmerus sp.
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 smaller 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 larger member of this species-pair threaten the long-term viability of the species-pair.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1998. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000 and November 2008. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in November 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

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.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Rainbow Smelt

Rainbow Smelt Photo 1

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Description

Named for the lake in southwestern New Brunswick in which they live, the small-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 large-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 small-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 less 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 small-bodied population’s features differ from those of the large-bodied population in the following ways. The small-bodied population has: a shorter body length (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 larger eyes; a smaller upper jaw; and more gill rakers (internal projections off the gill arch, involved in filter feeding).

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Distribution and Population

The small-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt occurs only in a single lake in the Magaguadavic River system in southwestern New Brunswick, Lake Utopia (and 3 of its tributaries: Second Brook, Unnamed Brook and Smelt Brook. The 3 tributary streams that the small-bodied population uses for spawning are located at the northern end of the lake and are not connected to any other lake. The streams are approximately 1 m wide and have estimated flow rates of less than 10 cm/s. In combination, the 3 streams have been estimated to provide 600 m or less of accessible linear habitat for spawning.

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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 small-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.

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Biology

In Lake Utopia, the small-bodied smelt spawn between mid-April and late May. 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 the water temperature. After hatching, the tiny fish (fry) drift downstream into Lake Utopia. During their early development, the small-bodied population feeds mainly on zooplankton. 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.

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Threats

Threats to the small-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 that the small-bodied population spawns in 3 small streams in the watershed, it is particularly vulnerable to impacts from habitat loss and degradation and factors limiting access to their spawning streams. Threats of greatest concern are predation by aquatic invasive species, water level fluctuations in spawning streams, and forestry and other land-altering activities (e.g., road construction) near spawning habitat. 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.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Rainbow Smelt, Lake Utopia small-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 small-bodied population of Lake Utopia rainbow smelt was listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 6, 2003. The large-bodied population was listed as threatened under SARA on August 15, 2019 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.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name National Recovery Strategy for Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt (Osmerus sp.)
Status Preliminary draft received by leads

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Recovery Team

Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt Conservation and Recovery Team

  • Arran McPherson - Chair/Contact - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Phone: 902-426-8503  Fax: 902-426-2331  Send Email

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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.

24 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Lake Utopia Dwarf Smelt Osmerus sp. in Canada (2000-05-31)

    Lake Utopia, southwestern New Brunswick, contains phenotypically and genetically distinct populations of smelt, genus Osmerus. One form, “Dwarf Smelt”, matures at between 100 to 120 mm total length while the other form, “Normal Smelt”, matures at 150 to 250 mm total length. Both Dwarf and Normal Lake Utopia Smelt are probably derived from anadromous Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax) that colonized the lake postglacially.
  • 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 small-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 and ephemeral streams in the watershed and could quickly become extinct through degradation of spawning streams from increasing development around the lake shore. There may be impacts through illegal dip-net fishery. This population is threatened by introduction of exotic species and by increasing eutrophication.
  • Response Statement - Rainbow Smelt, Lake Utopia small-bodied population (2020) (2020-01-07)

    This population of smelt is the smaller 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 larger member of this species-pair threaten the long-term viability of the species-pair.

Recovery Strategies

Action Plans

Orders

  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 146, number 14, 2012) (2012-07-04)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.
  • 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(#18-PMAR-00023), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2019-07-30)

    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-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(#DFO-MAR-2010-012), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2010-04-13)

    Representative samples of 'dwarf' smelts will be collected from each of the three Lake Utopia tributaries used for spawning (Scout, Smelt, and Mill brooks). Lethal sampling of dwarf rainbow smelts is required to conduct a phylogenetic assessment of the status of the Lake Utopia rainbow smelt sympatric species assemblage. Thus, 50 'dwarf' smelts will be lethally sampled from each tributary. A further 150 'dwarf' smelts (50 from each tributary) will be measured to length and fin clipped (to collect tissue samples) and released live to the water. The spawning tributaries are small (~1m width), all samples can be collected with a dip net while standing on the stream bank.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2011-004), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2011-04-05)

    To determine whether Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (LURS) are present in Digdeguash Lake, New Brunswick, in response to a recent communication suggesting that a historic population may exist. The project will assess this using a presence/absence survey between April 1 and May 15, 2011. A maximum of 25 individuals of Rainbow Smelt will be captured, killed, and retained for identification in a laboratory. DFO staff in Southwest New Brunswick will conduct all field activities and temporarily possess biological samples (whole individuals of Rainbow Smelt species, potentially LURS) until they are transferred to DFO staff at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, who will analyze and store all biological samples after the permit's expiry.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2011-017), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2011-05-06)

    Individuals of Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, Small-bodied Population will be lethally sampled from the tributaries of Lake Utopia used by the species for spawning. Whole individuals will be retained and stored for analysis and laboratory research to be conducted at a later date (quantification and/or description of ecological and physical traits as well as genetic analysis). Research on the species is to address knowledge gaps identified in the draft recovery strategy such as the identification of conditions maintaining genetic diversity in the population and the description of the biological traits of the species. The collections will take place during May of 2011, and samples will be stored and analyzed beyond the expiry of the permit.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2012-03), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2012-03-19)

    DFO Science proposes to conduct research on the small-bodied population of Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (LURS). Research activities include lethally sampling up to 100 individuals from each of the three spawning streams during the spring spawning run in order to quantify fine-scale biological traits (gill rakers, eye diameter) and conduct genetic analyses. In addition, capture/mark/recapture studies may be conducted to support population abundance estimates. Individuals will be captured by dip netting, trap netting or beach seining and those individuals to be lethally sampled will be retained and stored for analysis and laboratory research to be conducted at a later date. The collections will take place from March to June 2012 and samples will be stored and analysed beyond the expiry of the permit. The proposed research addresses a number of knowledge gaps identified in the draft recovery strategy for LURS. Of note, impacts permitted by the 2011 SARA authorization for the same level of lethal sampling were never incurred because it was decided that the work would be delayed until this year.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2013-09), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2013-04-22)

    DFO Science proposes to conduct research on the small-bodied population of Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (LURS). Research activities include: installing water temperature loggers in streams and tributaries to Lake Utopia; identifying by observation and egg presence, which streams and tributaries smelt are using for spawning activities; recording run timing and upper limit of egg deposition for each stream being used for spawning. If available, LURS may be captured (~100 smelt per brook) for length frequency sampling. Collection will take place from April to May and all fish will be collected with dip nets and will be live released back to the brook of origin. No lethal sampling will take place.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2014-05), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2014-04-04)

    Individual Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, small bodied population, may be captured (approximately 100 smelt in each of the three brooks where they are located) for length frequency sampling. Collection will take place from April to June. All fish will be collected with dip nets and will be live released back to the brook of origin. No lethal sampling will take place. Water temperature loggers will be installed in streams and tributaries of Lake Utopia.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2015-10), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2015-05-06)

    The main purpose of this project is to collect information on 90 specimens of Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, Small-bodied Population (LURS-SbP), for use in morphometric analyses required to address the following objective in the Draft Recovery Strategy: Maintenance of the genetic diversity and genetic differentiation of Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt within Lake Utopia. Other information collected will add to the knowledge of life history characteristics. Thirty or less LURS-SbP will be captured from each of the three spawning streams (Second Book, Unnamed Brook and Smelt Brook). The fish will be killed using an overdose of an anesthetic and transported to the St. Andrews Biological Station. Information will be collected (e.g., gill raker counts, gonad weights) and samples (e.g., tissue, otolith, scales) will be extracted, preserved and stored until analyses can be conducted. Also, up to 100 eggs will be collected from Second Brook, in an area of sediment deposition, and transported to the St. Andrews Biological Station to assess egg\embryo survival. The eggs will be stored for future reference and photographs of the embryos will be taken at a later date. This project will provide information on the effects of sedimentation on egg\embryo survival.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2016-08), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2016-06-20)

    An acoustic survey is being conducted in Lake Utopia to determine the spatial and temporal use of the water column by juvenile and adult Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt (LURS). Target strengths of the acoustic signals will be used to differentiate between the two life forms of LURS, the Small-bodied population (Sbp) and the Large-bodied population (Lbp). To link the acoustic signal to a particular species, fish sampling must occur concurrently with the acoustic survey. Gillnets will be used to capture the fish. When conducted as proposed, minimal levels of mortality are expected. A small number of captured LURS-Sbp fish will be measured and scale samples will be collected. Tissue samples (adipose fin clips) will be collected from all captured LURS-Sbp fish, for future genetic analysis. All biological samples will be stored at the DFO lab at St. Andrew's Biological Station until processed or transferred elsewhere for processing. The information gathered will be used to address several objectives in the Proposed Recovery Strategy and will add to the knowledge of the life history characteristics of both the LURS-Sbp and LURS-Lbp.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#DFO-MAR-2017-02), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2017-06-05)

    Activities will include taking possession of samples from ten Lake Utopia Rainbow Smelt, Small-bodied Population (LURS-SbP) individuals. The samples will be provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to the permit holder, who will in turn provide them to a research institute for analysis. The samples will be used to develop a stable isotope fingerprint to detect LURS-SbP in the stomach contents of fish predators. This information is needed to better understand the threat that fish predators may pose to LURS-SbP in the Lake Utopia watershed.

Critical Habitat Orders

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Recovery Document Posting Plan - Fisheries and Oceans Canada - Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (2018-09-28)

    Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent Minister(s) must prepare a recovery strategy within one year of listing a species on Schedule 1 of SARA as endangered and within two years of listing a species as extirpated or threatened. A management plan must be prepared within three years for a species listed as special concern. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is accountable for 111 of the 518 species listed under SARA. As of February 2016, proposed recovery strategies, management plans and action plans for 57 of those species have not yet been posted to the Species at Risk Public Registry. An additional 23 aquatic species have proposed management or action plans coming due in the future. The following outlines the Department’s plan for posting proposed documents for 64 species on the Species at Risk Public Registry. The Department has a plan to post recovery strategies for 9 species, management plans for 13 species, and action plans for 42 species over the next year. Original publication of the Recovery Document Posting Plan: 2016-05-02
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