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Consistency of COSEWIC species at risk designations: freshwater fishes as a case study

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The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) is responsible for the assessment of Canadian wildlife at risk. The COSEWIC assessment process is primarily based on five quantitative criteria developed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but allows for further modification of designations under certain conditions. This study investigated the consistency of designations predicted using the quantitative COSEWIC criteria compared with observed designations reported by COSEWIC. A total of 49 COSEWIC designations for freshwater fishes from 2000 to 2007 were compared for consistency in decision-making. Overall, there was a 57.1% agreement between predicted and observed designations. A substantial number (35.1%) of COSEWIC designations were downlisted from “Endangered” or “Threatened” without sufficient explanation to justify the modifications. For the cases of uplisting, these differences were associated with qualitative criteria not effectively represented in our algorithm. Recommendations are offered to improve the transparency and accountability of COSEWIC decision-making, including enhancements to reporting and the explicit incorporation of uncertainty in the COSEWIC risk assessment protocol.

Le Comité sur la situation des espèces en péril au Canada (COSEPAC) est responsable de l’évaluation de la faune canadienne menacée. Le processus d’évaluation du COSEPAC est principalement basé sur cinq critères quantitatifs mis au point par l’Union internationale pour la conservation de la nature, mais il permet des modifications subséquentes de la désignation dans certaines conditions. Notre étude examine la cohérence entre les désignations prédites à partir des critères quantitatifs du COSEPAC et les désignations réalisées de fait par le COSEPAC. Nous avons examiné la cohérence dans les prises de décision dans un ensemble de 49 désignations faites par le COSEPAC pour les poissons d’eau douce de 2000 à 2007. Globalement, il y a une concordance de 57,1% entre les désignations prédites et observées. Un nombre significatif (31,5%) des désignations du COSEPAC ont été réduites de «en voie de disparition» à «menacé» sans les explications nécessaires pour justifier ces modifications. Dans les cas d’augmentation de la cote, les différences sont associées à des critères qualitatifs non effectivement compris dans l’algorithme. Nous formulons des recommandations pour améliorer la transparence et la responsabilisation de la prise des décisions au COSEPAC, en particulier une augmentation de la diffusion et l’incorporation explicite de l’incertitude dans le protocole d’évaluation des risques du COSEPAC.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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