Research funded by the Strategic Program for Ecosystem-Based Research and Advice (SPERA)

The Strategic Program for Ecosystem-Based Research and Advice (SPERA) supports those objectives with research projects and scientific tool development which support national priorities for managing ecosystems in our domestic waters. Projects address key issues, such as scientific guidance on the avoidance of benthic impacts; science support for mitigating by-catch and tools to help manage biological diversity in Canadian waters.

The Strategic Program for Ecosystem-based Research and Advice (SPERA) funds projects by DFO researchers which:

  1. Assess the ecosystem impacts of human activities;
  2. Assess and report on ecosystems and
  3. Develop tools to implement the ecosystem approach to management.
Description Eco-region
Understanding the impact of a changing climate on interactions between Pacific sardine and Pacific herring populations in British Columbia

The population of sardines along the Pacific coast increased dramatically in the last few decades, while the west coast of Vancouver Island population of Pacific herring has been declining. The herring population may be impacted by competition with sardines for food during the summer months in common feeding grounds off Vancouver Island. Using fish distribution, diet composition, and ocean conditions, this project aims to study how competitio...

Principal investigator: Jennifer Boldt

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast
The functional role of forage fish species and implications for the Ecosystem Approach to Management in Canada

Forage fish species, which serve as prey for other types of fish, are a key link in the food chains of Canada's marine ecosystems, transferring energy from lower levels to higher levels of the food chain. They are also the subject of major fisheries. While the Canadian Forage Fish Policy provides guidelines for new and developing fisheries, Canada lags behind much of the developed world in applying an ecosystem approach to the management of t...

Principal investigators: Alida Bundy, Gary Melvin

Spatial analysis of demersal fish communities to support ecosystem based management

Ecosystem processes operate over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Assessing ecosystem status and identifying representative areas within ecoregions for conservation purposes requires the development of appropriate metrics and identification of relevant measurement scales. Demersal fish assemblages are major components of marine ecosystems. Patterns in fish distributions are scale dependent. Temporal changes in association between ...

Principal investigators: Danny Ings, Pierre Pepin

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Shipping effects on walrus in the Foxe Basin / Hudson Strait complex

The largest Atlantic Walrus population in the Canadian Arctic, which is found in the Foxe Basin/Hudson strait complex, is facing increased stress from climate change and shipping traffic, potentially threatening both individual walruses and populations. This project aims to better understand and predict ecosystem changes in this region and their effect on walruses by defining the sources and impacts of climate change and shipping. This projec...

Principal investigator: Jason Hamilton

Arctic: Hudson Bay, James Bay, Foxe Basin
Rapid screening tool for marine fish based on the Australian ERAF

Pacific groundfish fisheries in British Columbia encounter over 200 species of groundfish, less than 30 of which are considered target species. The Sustainable Fisheries Framework requires fisheries managers to adopt an ecosystem-based approach. Sustainable and economically viable fisheries that do not cause alterations to marine ecosystems will require adequate monitoring and reporting of the impact of these fisheries on the 170 non-target g...

Principal investigator: Greg Workman

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast
Predicting and forecasting the effects of multiple stressors on the fish assemblages of the large lakes of Canada

Canada has approximately 600 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres. These lakes, which are important freshwater resources, face multiple stressors from human activities—in the south from higher population density and development and in the north from resource extraction and climate change. This project aims to predict how fish communities change in response to human activities and will rank Canada's large lakes according to the sensitivity ...

Principal investigator: Nick Mandrak

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
Mapping species distribution and identifying important habitats in the coastal zone of the Saint Lawrence Estuary and Gulf

This project is focused on 1) developing tools that provide DFO with a standardized approach to identifying Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs), 2) providing scientific support for management to prioritize habitat protection in the coastal zone and 3) the identification of EBSAs in the coastal zone. In recent years, the number of projects aimed at protecting coastal infrastructure has increased, due to coastal erosion and ...

Principal investigator: Jean-Sébastien Lauzon-Guay

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
Lessons learned from prediction and monitoring of environmental effects of oil and gas exploitation on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland

Offshore oil and gas exploitation has been taking place on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the Scotian Shelf since the 1990s. Each operation was subject to an environmental assessment (EA) and has an environmental effects monitoring (EEM) program. The findings of the monitoring programs are reviewed by the Canada-Newfoundland and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Boards and other federal agencies on an individual basis, however th...

Principal investigator: Robin Anderson

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Integrating telemetry research for better ecosystem management

Telemetry—the technology used for measuring data from a distance—is used globally to better understand and manage ocean resources, and provides valuable information that could not easily be measured using traditional techniques. While many researchers collect telemetry data, their work is done independently, with the result that similar information is collected, analyzed, and stored separately. This project aims to reduce cost, improve effici...

Principal investigator: Corey Morris

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Indicators of pelagic habitat status in the Northwest Atlantic

Changes in ocean currents, winds, and continental shelf circulation can result in regional changes to the habitat characteristics of pelagic areas of the ocean (areas that are neither close to the shore nor to the ocean bottom), which can either reduce or increase the productivity of fisheries. Although these types of large-scale environmental drivers cannot be managed, understanding them can help mitigate negative social, economic, and ecolo...

Principal investigators: Catherine Johnson, David Hebert

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Impact of shipping noise on marine animals

In 2010, the Ecosystem and Ocean Science Division of DFO mandated a study of the impact of shipping noise on marine animals in preparation for a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat workshop aimed at developing DFO policies. Since this workshop was delayed, the information collected during the study on the impact of shipping noise is now out of date, and lacks new scientific knowledge, recent publications, and international initiatives. This...

Principal investigator: Yvan Simard

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
Identifying Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSA) and Ecologically Significant Species (ESS) in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes: adapting the criteria for determining 'significance' from DFO Oceans Action Plan

In marine areas, ecologically sensitive habitats and fish species that require enhanced management are identified under the Oceans Action Plan using specific criteria that address four conservation priorities: 1) ecologically and biologically significant areas; 2) ecologically significant species; 3) depleted or rare species and 4) degraded areas. This project will test the use of these criteria for identifying the conservation priorities in ...

Principal investigator: Robert Randall

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
Identification of benthic Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) on the Scotian Shelf

Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) are identified and prioritized using criteria that include uniqueness/rarity and aggregation of an area compared to other areas; how the loss of an area would compromise a population; how natural or undisturbed the habitat is; and the area's resilience to physical disturbance. Prior to this project, there has not been a systematic review of species and habitats in benthic marine areas (t...

Principal investigator: Ellen Kenchington

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
HEAT (Habitat/Ecosystem Assessment Tool): Transforming and improving HAAT, an existing tool, for use in evaluating multiple stressors

The Habitat Alteration Assessment Tool (HAAT) has been used to determine habitat supply in freshwater areas based on fish communities and their habitat needs. HAAT uses data on depth, substrate, and vegetation to evaluate ecosystem changes and impacts on fish habitat. This project will revise HAAT to include more variables, such as temperature, and consider water level fluctuations, which are affected by climate change. The resulting science-...

Principal investigator: Susan Doka

Central Canada: Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River Drainage Basin
Habitat characterisation in critical zones or marine protected areas using a combination of direct (benthic imagery, acoustics) and numerical (habitat modelling) approaches in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence

The potential that important commercial species could experience a decline in productivity due to the effect of human activities on their habitats has been increasing in recent years. This issue has raised concerns over fishing practices, where scientific advice on the nature and extent of human impacts and management measures to address these impacts is needed, such as critical zones where fisheries should be time-limited or eliminated altog...

Principal investigator: Claude Savenkoff, Richard Larocque

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
GIS-enabled habitat classification tool based on environmental data layers

An important habitat classification model known as the Kostylev and Hannah habitat template contains chemical, physical, and geological data within a marine mapping framework. This project will create a Geographic Information System (GIS) tool to access and manipulate the data in the template, along with a web-based tool that will be easier to access for users without specialized GIS skills. These tools will be used by habitat managers for ev...

Principal investigator: Charles Hannah

Geomatics in support of ecosystem-based management

Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) requires comprehensive information about aquatic ecosystems and their potential pressures and impacts. Geospatial data and tools are required to assess and analyze the complex spatial relationships that characterize the pressures and impacts on aquatic ecosystems and to support risk/threat assessments and overall EBM implementation. This project aimed to develop an Atlantic Canada-wide coastal and marine infor...

Principal investigator: Léa Olsen

Future hypoxia in British Columbia

Hypoxia, a state of low oxygen concentration, is present in some British Columbia (BC) sub-surface waters. Two regions, the Gulf of Alaska and the US continental slope from California to northern BC, are sources of hypoxic water, but their relative contributions to this situation are unknown. This project will provide graphs of oxygen concentration and use historical data to assess the relative contributions of the two regions to predict futu...

Principal investigator: Bill Crawford

Pacific: North Coast and Hecate Strait
Exploration of approaches to assess cumulative impacts of activities in the coastal zone within an Ecosystem Approach to Management Framework (EAM)

Collapse or fluctuations in important fish stocks have prompted a shift in fisheries management approaches, from consideration of human impacts on individual target species to an approach that considers impacts on the ecosystem as a whole, known as an Ecosystem Approach to Management (EAM). This project aims to support the advancement of an EAM in the Maritimes by defining a method to assess the impacts of human activities on coastal regions ...

Principal investigators: Fred Page, Tanya Worchester

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Evaluation of the potential for seismic surveys to impact lobster resources

Extensive seismic surveys used to understand the characteristics of the earth's crust (often to locate oil and gas wells) are being conducted in the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador, and have raised concerns of potential damage to fisheries resources. A previous study showed that the sound from an airgun used in seismic surveys caused changes in lobster tissues and potential organ damage one day after being exposed. However, there can ...

Principal investigator: Robin Anderson

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Evaluation of historical multivariate datasets to identify changes in biodiversity, species distribution, behaviour, abundance, and interaction in response to environmental forcing in a marine ecosystem

Historical data from fisheries acoustic surveys for the La Perouse area off Vancouver Island can be used to measure change over time in marine species characteristics (such as behaviour, abundance, and habitat). Combining and analysing acoustic, biological, and oceanographic data will provide new information on this ecosystem, maps of habitat use, indications of how environmental changes are affecting species health, and inform protocols for ...

Principal investigator: Stéphane Gauthier

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast
Evaluation of geospatial tools for delineating concentrations of deep-sea corals and sponges

The kernel density analysis is a method used to identify significant concentrations of aggregating species such as cold-water corals and sponges. This method has certain limitations for other applications: it does not take into account environmental factors that can influence coral/sponge densities (water depth, temperature, and nutrient status) and is not effective in areas where few observations have been made. This project will compare two...

Principal investigator: Ellen Kenchington

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Evaluation of ecosystem indicators for assessing impacts of habitat disruptions on fish productivity

The Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) has conducted over 50 experiments studying the effects of human activities (flooding, water diversion, aquaculture, etc.) on entire aquatic ecosystems. Extensive data on fish populations, hydrology, water chemistry, food web structure, and meteorology have been collected for decades from these experiments and can be compared to control measurements taken at unaffected lakes. By studying the links between vari...

Principal investigators: Scott Higgins, Michael Rennie, Michael Paterson, Paul Blanchfield

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
Evaluating the feasibility of developing biodiversity-based fishery management objectives for Pacific herring

Pacific herring in British Columbia (BC) are diverse in the timing and distribution of their spawning. This diversity contributes to the productivity of fish population and to its resilience, but has yet to be formally included in herring fisheries management. There is evidence that individual herring population groupings consist of genetically distinct sub-populations, and that there is a large population of these groupings, separated by spa...

Principal investigator: Jaclyn Cleary

Pacific: Vancouver Island West Coast
Evaluating ecosystem services and functions in coastal habitats for use in habitat restoration

Well-functioning ecosystems provide many benefits, such as habitats, that are known as ecosystem services and functions; these can be threatened by impacts of human activities. Habitat restoration can maintain ecological integrity by compensating for lost ecosystem services and functions from damaged habitat. This requires a method to quantify the loss of ecosystem functions, but it is unclear which types of measures are best to do so. This p...

Principal investigator: Melissa C. Wong

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Estimation of prey selectivity by grey seals: Implications for the mortality of fish and possible consequence of management actions on seals

Elevated adult natural mortality (M) has prevented the recovery of numerous depleted Atlantic Canada groundfish populations. Advice to the Minister in 2011 indicated that there is substantial indirect evidence that predation by grey seals might explain much of the elevated M in southern Gulf of St. Lawrence populations. However, direct evidence of an adverse predation impact is lacking because of difficulties in determining the amount of eac...

Principal investigator: Hugues Benoît

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
Estimation of demersal fish food consumption and trophic level for key fish species in the NL marine ecosystem: a proof of concept for developing food web baselines in an ecosystem-based management context

Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) is an approach to fisheries management that considers the ecosystem as a whole and therefore many objectives at once. EBM requires some trade-offs between priorities, such as those between fisheries that target species linked through predator-prey relationships and other interactions (e.g., in the Newfoundland and Labrador marine ecosystem seals and Atlantic cod or Atlantic cod and shrimp or crab). Assessing t...

Principal investigator: Mariano Koen-Alonso

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Estimating prey consumption by northwest Atlantic Harp seals

Harp seals are abundant high-level predators in the northwest Atlantic, and like most marine mammals, they have a significant impact on important commercial species. Understanding the role marine mammals may have in the decline of important prey species involves estimating how much they consume. This is complex because the areas covered, the time periods involved, and the contents of their diet vary widely. This project will involve updating ...

Principal investigator: Garry Stenson

Atlantic: Newfoundland, Labrador Shelves
Establishment of a standardised format, and trial of concept, for marine mammal sightings and abundance database and virtual data centre

Information on marine mammal sightings and abundance collected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is currently spread across regions using different storage formats, which leads to duplication, inconsistency, and limited accessibility of data. This project will coordinate the production of a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) research document that describes best practices for collection and storage of sightings data. It will also...

Principal investigator: Jack Lawson

Effects of hydroelectric development on coastal primary productivity and phytoplankton community composition

Hydroelectric development of the Romaine River is currently underway, with power generation scheduled to begin in 2014, reaching full operation in 2020. This project will use the Romaine River development as a test case to examine the effects of such developments on coastal marine environments by collecting baseline data before the start of operations and through continued monitoring as impacts take effect. This project will focus particularl...

Principal investigator: Michael Scarratt

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
Ecosystem indicators for ecosystem monitoring at different scales

Canada's Oceans Act has prompted a push towards sustainable development of fisheries and consideration of their effects on ecosystems, which emphasizes the need for an Ecosystem Approach to Management (EAM). Progress on EAM requires evaluation and selection of useful indicators of ecosystem status that can provide an assessment of past and current effects of fishing on ecosystems to ocean and fisheries managers. This project will enhance the ...

Principal investigator: Alida Bundy

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Development of eco-region benchmarks of fish productivity in freshwaters: incorporating habitat, water temperature, nutrients, and flow as primary drivers of productivity of fishes that support commercial, Aboriginal, and recreational fisheries

A 2011 Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) workshop recommended developing a tool to measure the effectiveness of habitat compensation programs. This project will contribute by creating benchmarks for productive capacity in different eco-regions in Canada. Productive capacity will be measured as the average biomass of target fish species (or groups of species) within eco-regions, which are defined as broad geographic areas with simil...

Principal investigator: Robert Randall

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
Development of a protocol to validate fish habitat models and test their transferability

Fish habitat models support an ecosystem-based approach to management and are used to: (1) determine habitat loss and the amount of off-setting required, (2) monitor fish habitat at contaminated sites, (3) evaluate habitat restoration projects or (4) establish Instream Flow Needs (IFN) requirements. Fish habitat models are based on habitat suitability index (HSI) curves, but Canada-specific HSI curves and Biological Significant Periods (BSP) ...

Principal investigator: Eva Enders

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
Demographic models as tools to assess vulnerability and resilience of marine stocks to environmental and fishing pressures

Measuring the vulnerability and resiliency of fish stocks to both environmental and fishing effects can be used to efficiently manage harvesting rules and rebuild collapsed stocks. These measurements are based on the productivity of individual fish stocks, which can be affected by changes in ecosystem composition (e.g., changes in the abundance of predators) and environmental conditions (climate). This project will use demographic models with...

Principal investigator: Yves Lambert

Atlantic: Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence Estuary
Cumulative impacts of regulating freshwater flows on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Scotian Shelf marine ecosystems

Regulating the flow of rivers using hydroelectric dams has a profound effect on the annual cycle of river runoff, shifting the maximum runoff from spring to winter, and the minimum runoff from winter to summer. River runoff is one of the main drivers of circulation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its influence can be felt as far as the Scotian Shelf. Most of Quebec's large rivers are dammed and more soon will be, causing changes in runoff tha...

Principal investigator: Diane Lavoie

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Can community size-based indicator management protect both forage species and large predators in the system?

The Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SSF) aims to maintain a healthy ecosystem by not over-exploiting any species, with special considerations made for forage (prey) species that have implications for predators in the system. Communities of forage fish usually consist of an assemblage of several species, the composition of which changes over time. Therefore, managing forage fish as individual species is difficult because of their large natura...

Principal investigator: Daniel Duplisea

Biodiversity measures for use in the Ecosystem Approach to Oceans management

Meeting Canada's commitment under the Convention on Biological Diversity requires that DFO be able to measure and report on the level of biodiversity in marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will evaluate international information on biodiversity indicators, with a focus on their application to Canadian waters. It will lead to a technical report providing detailed recommendations for consistent and scientifically sound reporting of b...

Principal investigator: Ellen Kenchington

Atlantic: Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf
Assessing ecosystem-based impacts of port developments on Roberts Bank

Roberts Bank supports a dynamic estuarine habitat for economically-important fisheries, as well as internationally important migrating shorebirds. Industrial development has led to local changes and tidal freshwater current carrying sediment from the Fraser River, both of which are critical to the productivity of the region. This industrial development coincided with changes in seagrass beds that serve as nursery habitat for juvenile salmon. ...

Principal investigator: Terri Sutherland

Pacific: North Coast and Hecate Strait
Application of an Ecological Risk Assessment Framework for Oceans Management of Large Ocean Management Areas and Marine Protected Areas: Case study for the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area and Oceans Act Marine Protected Area of British Columbia

The establishment of the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) creates a need to develop ecosystem-based ocean management. An Ecological Risk Assessment Framework (ERAF) for ecosystem-based management has been developed to evaluate how human activities threaten components of valuable marine ecosystems. This project will apply this framework to the management of PNCIMA.

Principal investigator: Miriam O

Pacific: North Coast and Hecate Strait
An integrated approach for the identification of biologically important regions and the production of ecosystem indicators in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence

Evaluating and reporting on ecosystem status, and producing tools for ecosystem-based management are two key themes of the SPERA program. This project will use historical data collected from 2006 to 2009 in the north and south of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to create a database that describes how different organisms are distributed, including invertebrates, zooplankton, pelagic fish (species that live neither near the bottom or the shore), and d...

Principal investigator: Stéphane Plourde

Central Canada: Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Freshwater Drainage Basin
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