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THE QUEBEC REGION BULLETIN
JUNE - JULY 2012/VOLUME 15/NUMBER 3
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St. Lawrence Beluga Recovery Strategy:
A conservation strategy
St. Lawrence Beluga
PWGSC F. McCann

With its new St. Lawrence Beluga Recovery Strategy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues its efforts for the conservation of this emblematic species.

In 1995, a recovery plan for the St. Lawrence beluga was produced by a team led by the World Wildlife Fund and by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. In May 2005, this population was officially listed as a threatened species under the Species at Risk Act. A new team was then created by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to develop a recovery strategy that integrates new knowledge about this population.

Threats

Aside from hunting conducted in the past (banned since 1979), ten threats that limit the recovery of St. Lawrence belugas are described in this strategy. Four of these affect the entire population: contaminants, disturbance from human activities, decreases in prey quality and quantity, and other habitat degradation. Collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing gear and scientific activities can also disturb the beluga, and even cause several deaths yearly. Finally, three specific threats may further limit the recovery of the St. Lawrence beluga: toxic spills, toxic algal blooms and disease outbreaks.

Strategy

The size of the current population is estimated at about 1 100 individuals in total (young and adults). The strategy sets a short-term target of 1 000 adults and a long-term target of 7 070 individuals in total. A series of measures are planned to reach these goals. They are aimed at reducing contaminants in belugas, their prey and their habitats; reducing disturbance; ensuring belugas have available and appropriate food resources; mitigating the effects of other threats, protecting their habitat and ensuring regular monitoring of the population.

The strategy also deals with critical habitat, the habitat necessary to the survival or recovery of the beluga. Vital activities such as calving and rearing occur within their critical habitat, in this case delineated by the upper estuary (Saguenay River up to Sainte-Marguerite Bay) and the maritime estuary's southern portion.

This recovery strategy is the latest of many efforts made since 1983 to restore the beluga population in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The commitment and collaboration of all those who participate in the recommendations' implementation is essential to achieving the objectives.

The St. Lawrence Beluga Recovery Strategy is available online for anyone interested in the protection of this emblematic species of the Estuary.

Andréanne Demers
Ecosystem Management
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