Species Profile

Grass Pickerel

Scientific Name: Esox americanus vermiculatus
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2014
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This fish is known from relatively few locations from southern Lake Huron to western Québec. The subspecies has a scattered distribution in Canada and is not abundant in any area. The subspecies could become threatened if habitat quality continues to decline owing to changes in land use and invasive species.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Special Concern in May 2005. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2014.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2006-08-15

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 Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Grass Pickerel

Grass Pickerel Photo 1

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Description

The Grass Pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus) is a subspecies of the Redfin Pickerel and a small member of the Pike family (Esocidae). In addition to the distinguishing family features (large mouth; many teeth; forked tail; and posterior dorsal and anal fins), the Grass Pickerel has the following characteristics: Long, relatively shallow body that is cylindrical in shape; Colouration is variable but usually green to brown with 12 to 24 irregular, vertical, narrow, dark bars, and a mid-dorsal brown stripe; Juveniles have a prominent pale lateral band that disappears with maturation; Dusty yellow-green lower fins; Protracted snout, concave in profile;  Fully scaled cheeks and opercula (hard bony flap protecting the gills); and usually less than 300 millimeters in total length; maximum total length and weight are 381 millimeters and 500 grams respectively.

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Distribution and Population

The Grass Pickerel is largely restricted to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins. It extends from southwestern Quebec southwest to Texas and, in the north, west to Minnesota. In Canada, its range is disjunct and is represented by several populations in southwestern Quebec and southern Ontario. It is known in the lower Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, as well as in shallow bays and tributaries of eastern and southwestern Lake Ontario, and along the north shore of Lake Erie. Populations occur in Lake St. Clair and some of its tributaries. It is also found in several tributaries in the Lake Huron watershed. It has been found in the St. Lawrence River, as well as in shallow bays and tributaries of eastern and southwestern Lake Ontario, inland watercourses of the Niagara region, and along the north shore of Lake Erie. Populations occur in Lake St. Clair and some of its tributaries. It is also found in several tributaries and waterbodies in the lower Lake Huron watershed.

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Habitat

Predominantly located in the U.S., the Grass Pickerel is largely restricted to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin. In Canada, its range is disjunct and is represented by several populations in southwestern Quebec and southern Ontario. It has been found in the St. Lawrence River, as well as in shallow bays and tributaries of eastern and southwestern Lake Ontario, inland watercourses of the Niagara region, and along the north shore of Lake Erie. Populations occur in Lake St. Clair and some of its tributaries. It is also found in several tributaries and waterbodies in the lower Lake Huron watershed. In Quebec, the last grass pickerel capture was done in 1988. According to some historical observations, the Grass Pickerel was found in three separate areas separated by natural and man-made obstacles (i.e. rapids, dams and weirs): 1) in Lake Saint François; 2) in the main channel of the St. Lawrence River near Coteau-du-Lac; and 3) in Lake St. Louis and its tributaries. In 2014, thirty grass pickerel were caught in Quebec, although the species had not been recorded for over 25 years. Surveys funded by Fisheries and Oceans Canada detected the presence of the species in six tributaries of the south shore of Lake St. Francis. The habitat of the Grass Pickerel is characterized by warm, slow-moving streams, ponds and shallow bays of larger lakes, with clear to tea-coloured water, and abundant aquatic vegetation. Bottom substrate is usually mud, but it has also been found over rock and gravel. Adults reach sexual maturity by two years of age. Associated with overland flooding, spawning occurs in the spring in water temperatures of 4° to 12° Celcius; however, there is evidence of late summer to winter spawning as well. Eggs are dispersed and adhere to aquatic vegetation. No nest is built and neither eggs nor young are provided parental care. Adult lifespan is seven years or less.

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Biology

The Grass Pickerel is a sight predator and feeds on a variety of different organisms throughout its life. Younger fish prefer small invertebrates while larger individuals consume fishes and crayfishes, as well as aquatic insect nymphs. Similar Species - The Grass Pickerel is often mistaken for the young of Northern Pike (Esox lucius) and, less often, the Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy). As adults, Northern Pike and Muskellunge are larger than the Grass Pickerel, have a more laterally compressed body, and have 13 to 19 branchiostegal rays. They also lack notched scales and dark bars under the eye. The Chain Pickerel (Esox niger) has 14 to 17 branchiostegal rays and a dark, chainlike pattern on its sides. The Redfin Pickerel (Esox americanus) has a shorter, broader snout and more than five notched scales on the flank and between the pelvic fins.

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Threats

Grass Pickerel in Canada is at the northern extent of its range. Principal threats to its future survival in Canada are habitat destruction and degradation. Grass Pickerel appear to have specific habitat requirements, and their long-term viability may be threatened by continued development and human encroachment at some locations. Of particular concern has been the loss of wetland habitat through rural land use practices, including agricultural and other development activities. Additional potential threats identified for populations in Ontario and Quebec include drainage, damage/destruction of riparian or aquatic vegetation, sediment and nutrient loading, contaminants input, exotic species, interspecific interactions, climate change, fishing pressure, water level fluctuations (beyond natural seasonal variability), disease and barriers to movement.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

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 Team

Essex-Erie Recovery Team

  • Shawn Staton - Chair/Contact - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
    Phone: 905-336-4864  Fax: 905-336-6437  Send Email

Quebec cyprinids and small percids recovery team

  • Marthe Bérubé - Chair/Contact -
    Phone: 877-775-0848  Send Email
  • Alain Kemp - Chair/Contact -
    Phone: 877-775-0848  Send Email

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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.

27 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Grass Pickerel (2015-12-23)

    This fish is known from relatively few locations from southern Lake Huron to western Québec. The subspecies has a scattered distribution in Canada and is not abundant in any area. The subspecies could become threatened if habitat quality continues to decline owing to changes in land use and invasive species.
  • Response Statements - Grass Pickerel (2005-11-15)

    A subspecies known from 10 locations between Lake St.Louis, Quebec and Lake Huron, Ontario. Its usual habitat is shallow water with abundance of aquatic vegetation. An overall decline of approximately 22% in the area of occupancy has been observed. This decline appears to be related to degradation and loss of habitat due to channelization and dredging operations in wetland habitats where this species occurs.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Grass Pickerel (Esox americanus vermiculatus) in Canada (2012-04-27)

    In 2005, the Grass Pickerel was designated a species of Special Concern in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and was listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2006. The COSEWIC designation was based on the species’ restricted distribution and declining population estimates in three of 10 known locations. The Grass Pickerel is a sub-species of the Redfin Pickerel from the pike family Esocidae. It has the usual pike-like body (i.e., long, relatively shallow and cylindrical to sub-cylindrical body, large mouth with many teeth, forked tail and posterior dorsal and anal fins) and is generally less than 300 mm in total length with a maximum recorded total length of 381 mm.  The global range of the Grass Pickerel is restricted to North America and in Canada, its range is restricted to a small number of populations in Ontario and Quebec. However, in Quebec, the species’ presence has not been confirmed for 20 years. This species is most commonly found in warm, slow-moving, heavily vegetated wetland-associated streams, ponds and shallow bays of larger lakes. They are typically ambush predators that feed predominately on fishes and, to a lesser extent, aquatic insects and crustaceans.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2005 (2005-08-12)

    2005 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2014-2015 (2015-11-20)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2014 to September, 2015) from November 23 to November 28, 2014 and from April 27 to May 1, 2015. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2014-2015 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 1 Endangered: 21 Threatened: 11 Special Concern: 21 Data Deficient: 1 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 24 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same risk status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: November 2005 (2005-11-16)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.
  • Consultation Workbook on the Addition of Two Aquatic Species to the SARA List: 'Eastslope' Sculpin and Grass Pickerel (2005-11-15)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the "Eastslope" sculpin (St. Mary & Milk rivers populations), and the Grass Pickerel to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding these species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding these species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).
  • Species at Risk Act - Legal Listing Consultation Workbook, Grass pickerel (Quebec region) (2005-11-15)

    Your opinion is being sought to assist the government of Canada in making an informed decision on whether to add the grass pickerel to the Schedule 1 (the List of Wildlife Species at Risk) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Your input on the impacts of adding this species to the List is important. This workbook has been developed to give you an opportunity to provide Fisheries and Oceans Canada with your feedback, advice, and other comments regarding adding this species to Schedule 1 of SARA (Schedule 1 identifies which species are legally protected under SARA).
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