Finding Fishes: Changes to Fish Diversity in BC

Project Leader

Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology

Research interests

I have two main research directions at the moment: the documentation of our changing marine fish diversity, and the documentation of the role of the pet trade, angling (bait) industry and grocery stores as sources of exotic and invasive animals in British Columbia.

Research Partners
  • Graham Gillespie (retired, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
  • James Orr and Duane Stevenson (NOAA, Seattle)
  • Milton Love (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Project Overview

Researchers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) have performed systematic surveys of the BC coastline since 1999, using trawlers like the CCGS W.E. Ricker (retired in 2017). The main thrust of the survey was to determine whether there was a viable tanner crab (Chionoecetes bairdi) fishery in British Columbia. The fish and invertebrate species caught during the tanner crab survey were a bonus, helping us to improve what we know about the marine diversity off our coast. Other new fishes come from Fishery Observer Program staff, who save unusual fishes from the commercial fishery.  A number of noteworthy new freshwater species have also appeared in BC in the last 15 years, some moving north from Washington, some  arriving as contaminants with stocked fishes and others originating in the pet trade. Further new range records come from citizen scientists who discover unusual fishes while out exploring.

Everything unusual is saved, sampled for DNA and preserved for the Royal BC Museum collection. Once specimen identification is confirmed, research on noteworthy range records and species new to BC are published in peer-reviewed publications. This Research Portal series summarizes the results of the surveys and new species discoveries. It also includes new specimens and new species identified from BC based on re-examination of museum specimens and fishes found in the commercial fishery and by citizen scientists.

Project activities

This project draws from specimens already in the Royal BC Museum to document historic introductions in this province and builds on publications produced by the Royal BC Museum and decades of externally published peer-reviewed research to maintain a current list of fish species that have appeared in our province. Information on new species and extreme range records detected in the future will be published and added to the updated species list for BC produced by G. Gillespie, and the list for the entire west coast of North America by M. Love.

New species described by science are relatively rare, but are a source of increased diversity. Sometimes “new” species stem from taxonomic changes, where known species are found to include multiple distinct species and are split up. This can result in an increase in recorded diversity if all of the new species are in our region. Recent examples include the new snailfish Careproctus ambustus, split from C. melanurus in 2020, and Spectrunculus crassus, split from S. grandis in 2008. The publications supporting this Research Portal stream will continue to capture taxonomic splits and new species descriptions.

Our survey trips with DFO will continue, with trips in 2021. The Fishery Observer Program will continue to collect fishes from the commercial fishery and Archipelago Marine will transfer them to the museum. In addition, new fishes will be found by beachcombers, anglers and divers, and if not reported directly to the museum, these will come to our attention through iNaturalist reports for BC.

With climate change and the recent frequency of warm surface water in the eastern North Pacific Ocean, I expect that warm-water fishes will continue to move north and their appearance here will need to be documented. These records will be published in traditional scientific serials, but they will also be announced online in blog and Research Portal articles. It is probable that climate warming will increase the diversity of fishes known to exist in BC, with cool-water fishes moving north or descending to deeper water as warm-water-adapted fishes move north. For each new species, we will record when we think they have made the transition from merely straying into BC waters to reproducing here.

Presently, we have two peer-reviewed papers in preparation, one announcing the appearance of spotted porcupinefish (Diodon hystrix) in BC waters and another documenting the appearance of nine species and five significant range extensions in our region. In addition, information from these publications is being incorporated into the faunal synopses by G. Gillespie and M. Love. These two synopses are living documents that will grow with time.


Article Authors
Range Extensions and New Records of the White Skate, Bathyraja spinosissima, and Fine-spined Skate, B. microtrachys, for British Columbia and Alaska.” Northwestern Naturalist 100, no. 1 (2019): 37–47. Orr, J.W., G.F. Hanke, D. E. Stevenson, G. R. Hoff and I. Spies.
Range Records for 10 Species of Stomiiform, Aulopiform and Myctophiform Fishes in British Columbia, Canada. Northwestern Naturalist  97, no. 2 (2016): 113–123. Milkova, V., G. Hanke, G. Gillespie, K. Fong, J. Boutillier, A.E. Peden, and J. Bedard.
First Records of Finescale Triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) and Louvar (Luvarus imperialis) in British Columbia Canada.” Northwestern Naturalist 97, no. 1 (2016): 7–12. Brooks, A., G. Hanke, C. Foote, G. Gillespie and J. Bedard.
Range Extension and First Species Records for Dreamerfish (Oneirodidae), Black Seadevils (Melanocetidae), and Deep Sea Anglerfish (Ceratiidae) in British Columbia, Canada.” Northwestern Naturalist 96, no. 2 (2015): 133–142. Weil, J., G. Hanke, G. Gillespie, K. Fong, J. Boutillier, A.E. Peden, J. Bedard and J. Riley.
New Records of 7 Cusk-Eels (Ophidiidae) and Brotulas (Bythitidae) in Coastal Waters of British Columbia, Canada.” Northwestern Naturalist 96, no. 1 (2015): 71-80. Hanke, G.F., G. Gillespie, K. Fong, J. Boutillier, J. Nielsen, P. Møller and J.M. Bedard.
New Records of Spiny Eels (Albuliformes), True Eels (Anguilliformes), and Bobtail Eels (Saccopharyngiformes) in British Columbia, Canada.” Northwestern Naturalist 95, no. 2 (2014):67–76. Hanke, G.F., G. Gillespie, K. Fong, J. Boutillier, A.E. Peden and J.M. Bedard.
First Specimens of the Marine Eels Venefica ocella  and V. tentaculata (Nettastomatidae) from British Columbia.” Canadian Field-Naturalist 126, no. 3 (2012): 210–216. Hanke, Gavin F., and Steven M. Roias.
First Records of the Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis), a Loricariid Catfish (Panaque suttonorum), and a Silver Pacu (Piaractus cf. P. brachypomus) in British Columbia, Canada.” Canadian Field-Naturalist, 120, no. 4 (2006): 421–427. Hanke, G.F., M.C.E. McNall, and J. Roberts.
“rex-salmonorum - King-of-the-Salmon.” The Victoria Naturalist, 74, no. 4 (2018): 6–7 Hanke, G.F.
A Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) in coastal British Columbia.” The Victoria Naturalist, 75 no. 3 (2018): 9–10. Halpin, L.R., M. Galbraith, K.H. Morgan and G.F. Hanke.
Skates on Ice.” What's inSight magazine, Spring 2019: 18–19. Hanke, G.F.
ABC's of the Royal BC Museum (Assfish, Brotulas and Cusk-eels).” What's inSight magazine, Winter 2014, 22–23. Hanke, G.F.
Eelgrass Beds - In Seine Diversity.” The Victoria Naturalist 69,  no. 1 2012: 7–9. Bedard, J.M., G.F. Hanke and M. Frey.
Dockside Naturalists – Learn Your Fishes.” The Victoria Naturalist 65, no. 2 (2008): 10–16. Hanke, G.F.
Tidepool Naturalists – Learn Your Fishes.” The Victoria Naturalist 64 no. 1 (2007): 8-14. Hanke, G.F.
Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis).” The Victoria Naturalist 62, no. 4 (2006): 8–9. Hanke, G.F.
Web Articles by Dr. Gavin Hanke
Deep Sea Anglerfish of BC
New Shark and Skates for BC
New Eels in BC
Auto Detailing by Maaco? No, Mako.
Swordfishes in BC
We Three Kings
One Fish, Two Fish, Big Fish, New.
A new shark for BC - Pacific Angel Shark
A Big Shark in BC
Assfish - in it's natural habitat
It's a Fish You Don't Meet Everyday
An Arctic fish in BC - the Board White Fish
Warm Water Triggers New Fish Records
Another Fish in the Fauna
Sub-Surface Slavery
Who will know where loaches go?
Deep Sea Anglerfishes in BC
Channa in Canada
Something you don't see every day - the Pacific Sandfish
Who doesn't love the Giant Blobsculpin?
Deep Sea Discovery


Get in Touch

Dr. Gavin Hanke
Curator of Vertebrate Zoology