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Western Fisheries Science News, March 2015 | Issue 3.3

Science without Borders:  WFRC Scientist Travels to Southeast Asia

Boats along the bank of the Mekong River and fish at a local market at Luang Prabang, Laos.  Photos provided by John Beeman and Matthew Andersen, USGS.

In January, WFRC research scientist John Beeman packed his bags and government passport and headed to Vientiane, Laos in Southeast Asia.  His assignment: “assess the existing state of knowledge related to Mekong River fish migration behavior and craft a long term research agenda to better inform future sustainable hydropower development, fish passage threshold development, and sustainable fish harvest”.  Beeman, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s David Hand, was recently appointed as co-lead of the Fish Migration Team, a project of DOI’s International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP). The ITAP is under the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) program, which was launched by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013. The SIM goal is to support smart, sustainable development by providing partner countries demand-driven technical and scientific assistance.  The Fish Migration Team, along with others specializing in fish ecology and fish genetics, will make recommendations for a long-term research program for the Living Aquatic Resources Research Center, the Lao government group responsible for  fishery research.  The teams complete their assignments through literature searches, two weeks of in-country interviews, and contacts with other scientists.

The Mekong River supports one of the most productive freshwater fisheries in the world.

The Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB), flowing from China through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Viet Nam, is home to between 850 and 1,200 fish species.  More than 60 million people from nearly 100 distinct ethnic groups depend on fisheries for subsistence and livelihood in the LMB (Asian Development Bank, 2007; Hortle, 2009). People in the LMB obtain the bulk of their protein from its wild fish and other aquatic animals and depend on its waters for farming, drinking, bathing, transportation, and sanita-tion.  Fish catch is essential for livelihoods, nutrition and food security.  Recent plans for hydropower development brings both opportunities for economic development and threats to existing communities and ecosystems.  Dams will bring a range of changes to the river and its fish habitats.  In particular, altered flow regimes could change the feeding and breeding habitats of fish along the river and the physical barrier of the dams will affect upstream and downstream fish migrations and downstream movement of sediment.   Xayaburi Dam, the first of up to 11 dams in the LMB, is under construction and there are already many dams on tributaries and dikes along the floodplain wetlands of the Mekong River.  The ITAP project can provide the Laos government with a guide to increasing their fishery research capacity to achieve economic development in a sustainable manner.

This is not Beeman’s first professional trip to South-east Asia.  In 2012, he and WFRC’s Dave Hewitt traveled to Cambodia to participate in a workshop to initiate a standardized fisheries monitoring network in the LMB (see factsheet). The USGS has been working with the US-based consulting firm FISHBIO, colleagues from the international Delta Research and Global Observation Network (DRAGON) Institute, and a broad contingent of Southeast Asian representatives and partners from abroad to increase knowledge of the Mekong River fisheries, increase comparability of data collected across international boundaries, and further develop the capacity of local scientists to investigate and understand fisheries.  Beeman and USGS scientists Yao Ying and Shirley Ying also traveled to several cities in China to discuss fish passage at hydroelectric dams with Chinese scientists. Beeman has found that many fish passage concepts from his experience with fish passage structures and evaluations in the Pacific Northwest have been transferrable and valuable across many borders.  But, his travels to other countries has also helped him to appreciate the importance of fish to people’s livelihood and health, as well as the challenges and complexities of managing a basin when you must consider the multitude of countries, languages, and fish species. “I appreciate how much we do know about our species here and the capacity we have to protect them.”


Hortle, K., 2007, Consumption and yield of fish and other aquatic animals from the Lower Mekong Basin: Vientiane, Lao PDR, Mekong River Commission technical paper no. 16, 87 p.

Asian Development Bank, 2007, Status of ethnic minorities in the Mekong region: Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tonle Sap Basin, Project No. 37250 (TA4283).

Newsletter Author - Rachel Reagan



USGS presents at 8th Virus Evolution Workshop at Pennsylvania State University:  On March 21, 2015, WFRC scientist Gael Kurath presented a talk titled “Evolution of the fish virus IHNV: drivers of emergence and displacement events in the field” at an international work-shop held at Pennsylvania State University, PA. The research is a project investigating the ecology and evolution of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN) virus in steel-head trout, through collaboration between WFRC and University of Washington scientists. Results reveal that displacement of virus types across the Pacific Northwest is in some cases associated with increases in virus virulence, but not infectivity or fitness. This work has relevance to understanding shifts in ecology of IHN virus in salmon, and provides a model for other RNA viruses in vertebrate hosts.

USGS Scientist Provides Virus Detection Training to Northwest Indian Fish Commission (NWIFC) Workers:  On March 12, WFRC biologist William Batts trained two fish health workers from the NWIFC (Olympia, WA) in detection methods for properly identifying unusual fish viruses recently detected in hatchery salmon populations. This training will enable them to use molecular diagnostic techniques to identify which fish viruses are present in the salmonid populations and aid management decisions regarding fish stocks infected with pathogenic or non-pathogenic viruses.

USGS Scientist Gives Talk to Tribal and Non-Tribal Students in Rural Oregon:  On March 11, WFRC scientist Summer Burdick gave a talk to students in a fisheries class at Chiloquin School (Chiloquin, OR). The fisheries program at Chiloquin School, which is primarily attended by tribal students, is a community and tribal supported program to foster interest in natural resources sciences among 8th to 12th grade students. The presentation focused on fish ecology and fisheries issues in the Klamath Basin and was followed by a tour of the  Klamath Tribal Fish Research Facility, where USGS researchers conduct research on factors effecting survival of juvenile endangered suckers.  

USGS Hosts Students from Multicultural Initiative in the Marine Sciences:  On February 27, 2015, the WFRC hosted a group of eight students from the Western Washing-ton University involved in the Multicultural Initiative in the Marine Sciences: Undergraduate Participation (MIMSUP) program. Funded by the National Science Foundation, MIMSUP is designed to increase diversity within the next generation of marine scientists by recruiting students from underrepresented groups. Participants are currently enrolled in a 4-year college or university, but spend two quarters at the Shannon Point Marine Center taking introductory and specialized courses in the marine sciences, attending seminars and workshops, exploring career opportunities, engaging in supervised research and attending a regional or national scientific meeting. After the program, students return to their home institutions to complete their undergraduate programs. Following a welcome to the Center by WFRC Director Dr. Jill Rolland, Dr. James Winton provided a history of the facility and an overview of the Fish Health Research Program. This was followed by a laboratory tour led by University of Washington graduate student Daniel Hernandez, himself a graduate of MIMSUP, who is conducting his thesis research at the WFRC.


USGS Study Improves Estimates of Bioenergetic Models for Chinook Salmon: In fisheries biology, bioenergetics models have become increasingly important tools for examining the effects of environmental change on the consumption and growth by fish in laboratories, hatcheries, and in nature. However, researchers have cautioned against the borrowing of parameters from other species and life stages when using bioenergetics growth models because estimates of consumption and growth may not represent the species of interest. In a recent article of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society titled "Re-Estimating Temperature-Dependent Consumption Parameters in Bioenergetics Models for Juvenile Chinook Salmon" researcher John Plumb, USGS Western Fisheries Research Center, and Christine Moffitt, USGS Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit, University of Idaho, used existing data sources to calibrate consumption parameters for bioenergetics models of juvenile Chinook salmon. The authors found the new estimates were a better match to the observed consumption data than what was used previously, and so the new parameter estimates should help improve model accuracy and application. 

Plumb, J.M., and C.M. Moffitt. 2015. Re-estimating temperature-dependent consumption parameters in bioenergetics models for juvenile Chinook salmon. Trans Am. Fish. Soc. 144(2): 323-330. DOI: 10.1080/00028487.2014.986336.

USGS Study Evaluates Fish Collection Devices on the Cowlitz River: Collection of juvenile salmon at Cowlitz Falls Dam is a critical part of the effort to restore salmon in the upper Cowlitz River, Washington. Many of the fish that are not collected pass downstream and enter Riffe Lake, become landlocked, and are lost to the anadromous population. During 2014, USGS scientists conducted a study to evaluate juvenile Chinook salmon behavior and collection patterns near a prototype weir box and floating collector at Cowlitz Falls Dam. The weir box was operated alongside two collection flumes which are the standard collection entrances at the dam. The study found that that the weir box outperformed the collection flumes based on discovery and collection rates that were observed during the study. The floating collector was located in the tailrace of the dam and failed to collect any of the tagged fish that passed by the device during the study. The discovery rate of the floating collector was very low which precluded other assessments of collector performance (i.e., entrance and retention rates).

Kock, T.J., T.L. Liedtke, B.K. Ekstrom, and W.R. Hurst. 2015. Evaluation of two juvenile salmon collection devices at Cowlitz Falls Dam, Washington, 2014: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1054, 30 p. DOI: 10.3133/ofr20151054.