Southern Ontario hot bed of rare, endangered fish

Jason Barnucz has been hopping from one wetland to the next with a team of researchers, studying fish populations from Lake Henry on Pelee Island to Lake St. Clair.

Fish nets often catch some of the regions at-risk turtles

Swamp Tour

6 years ago
Duration 0:27
Biologist Jason Barnucz is cruising Ontario's swamps looking to update the province's fish species information, with a focus on fish species at risk. Turtles, though, present a bit of a problem.

Southern Ontario wetlands continue to house some of the rarest fish in Canada, say biologists roaming the region this week.

Jason Barnucz has been hopping from one wetland to the next with a team of researchers, studying fish populations from Lake Henry on Pelee Island to the Long Point National Wildlife Area.

A research biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Barnucz and his team gauge the health of ecosystems by focusing largely on the abundance of fish.

Research biologist Jason Barnucz is part of a team studying some of Canada's rarest fish species in the wetlands of southern Ontario. (Jason Barnucz/Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Having already visited the southern shores of Lake St. Clair, Wheatley Provincial Park and Lake Henry, the swamp team found 30-40 different species a day. Some wetlands alone have more than 50 species in them.

"These wetlands are some of the most diverse systems anywhere in Canada," Barnucz said. "Some of the rarest fish in Canada can only be found in some of these places.

Protecting rare species

The latest research tour is a partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and the University of Toronto.
The lake chubsucker is a threatened species, which means it lives in the wild in Ontario, but is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it. (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

The group is particularly looking at rare species of fish. Barnucz cites examples like the spotted gar as one of the rare species found in the wetlands, which his team discovered in Rondeau Bay.

The researchers would also like to catch sight of a lake chubsucker, which is a rare fish in Canada, but found in a lot of southern Ontario wetlands.

Stable populations

Barnucz has not noticed a depletion of fish populations in the wetlands over the past decade. He did a similar tour of these sites back in 2002, so this time around is a bit of a nostalgic experience.

He attributes the wetland stability to stewardship programs by groups like Ontario Parks, Parks Canada and the Essex Region Conservation Authority.

"A lot of these areas have a good level of protection and, because of that, we've been very successful at conserving and protecting these areas," he said.

Over next few weeks, the team plans to also visit St. Clair National Wildlife Area, Long point National Wildlife Area and Hillman Marsh.

One of the more difficult parts of the research is dealing with snapping turtles, which are drawn to the nets when they're full of fish.

Barnucz has been recording several of his experiences with the turtles, saying the video has been captured on "turtle cam."

Research biologist Jason Barnucz often finds turtles caught in his team's fishnets as they study some of the rarest fish species in Canada.