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Western Fisheries Science News, October 2016 | Issue 4.10

November 28, 2016

Transporting Fish around Impassable Dams:  An Opportunity and Challenge for Reintroductions

October sunrise over Pompey Peak.
October sunrise over Pompey Peak in the Upper Cowlitz River Basin, Washington. Photograph by Toby Kock, USGS.


During the early 20th century there was major dam construction in the Pacific Northwest, bringing hydropower that served as a primary instrument of economic change in the West. In addition to providing ample power for people in the region, the dams helped to control floods, provided irrigation water, and created new recreational opportunities.  However, many of the dams that were constructed during this time failed to provide upstream fish passage, eliminating access to important spawning areas for numerous salmon populations. By the 1990s, many of these populations had declined to levels that necessitated listing as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. In response, efforts to restore salmon runs to areas blocked by dams have included the implementation of trap-and-haul programs, installation of fish passage devices, population supplementation and reintroduction, and dam removal.

In the Cowlitz River, Washington, fish passage was eliminated when two dams (Mayfield and Mossyrock dams) were constructed in the 1960s. Mossyrock Dam is the tallest dam in Washington State, and its height created conditions that eliminated fish passage for upstream and downstream migrants. Fish ladders were not possible given the height of the dam, and downstream passage was eliminated because of the size and depth of the upstream reservoir and depth of turbines. In 1996, a trap-and-haul program—a strategy where adult fish are collected downstream of a dam,  transported by vehicle around the dams, and released into upstream sites where they can continue to migrate and spawn—was implemented to reintroduce anadromous salmonids to the upper Cowlitz River Basin. Trap-and-haul programs are common because they do not require dam modifications (which can be expensive); yet still provide access for anadromous fish into areas that are blocked. The trap-and-haul program has returned fish to 322 km of stream habitat in the upper Cowlitz River Basin where adult salmon and steelhead are successfully spawning and producing progeny. However, little is known about behavior patterns, spawning locations, and fates of adult salmon and steelhead following release.

USGS researchers from WFRC have been using radiotelemetry to evaluate post-release behaviors and fates of adult steelhead, Chinook salmon, and coho salmon to the trap-and-haul program in the upper Cowlitz River Basin. In a new USGS report, prepared in cooperation with the Public Utility District Number 1 of Lewis County, Washington and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, scientists summarize a multi-year study during 2005–09 and 2012 to describe behavior and movement patterns of hatchery-produced and naturally-produced steelhead and salmon following out-planting in areas located upstream of dams. 

The study showed that substantial losses can occur to populations of adult steelhead and salmon after release in the upper Cowlitz River Basin. Results indicated that about one-fifth to one-half of the transported fish failed to move into upstream rivers during the spawning period. The study also found that hatchery- and natural-origin fish had distinctly different behavioral responses to release in the upper Cowlitz River Basin, with hatchery fish being slower to move upstream and more likely to fall back over the dam (to an area with limited spawning opportunities). The study provides data that are insightful for understanding behavior and movement patterns in the upper Cowlitz River Basin and identifies potential management actions that could be instrumental in reducing losses in the populations.

Newsletter Author - Rachel Reagan


New Publication Evaluates Recovery of Sockeye Salmon in the Elwha River after Dam Removal: Unlike most salmon species, sockeye salmon are unique in that most populations require lakes to fulfill their life history. Thus, for Sockeye Salmon to colonize a system, projects like dam removals must provide access to lakes. However, if the lakes contain landlocked kokanee (lake-living Sockeye Salmon), the recovery of Sockeye Salmon could be mediated by interactions between the two life history forms and the processes associated with the resumption of anadromy. In a recent article in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, scientists from University of Washington, USGS, and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe evaluate the extent to which estimates of Sockeye Salmon smolt production and recovery are sensitive to the seasonal thermal regime and availability of zooplankton and the resumption of anadromy by kokanee after dam removal.

Hansen, A.G., J.R. Gardner, D.A. Beauchamp, R. Paradis, and T.P. Quinn. 2016. Recovery of Sockeye Salmon in the Elwha River, Washington, after Dam Removal: Dependence of Smolt Production on the Resumption of Anadromy by Landlocked Kokanee. Trans. Am. Fish. Soc., 145(6): 1303-1317

New Publication about Bird Predation on Lost River and Shortnose Suckers in the Upper Klamath Basin: Lost River and shortnose suckers — long-lived members of the family Catostomidae that are endemic to the Klamath River Basin — are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and are a high priority for recovery. Numerous factors have been identified as limiting the recovery of sucker populations, but the impacts of predatory birds on sucker populations is currently unknown and may be significant based on the abundance and diversity of fish-eating waterbirds that reside in the Upper Klamath Basin, as well as the relative scarcity of suckers compared with the past. In a new article in North American Journal of Fisheries Management, scientists from Real Time Research, Inc., USGS WFRC, and USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Oregon State University evaluated predation on Lost River and shortnose suckers by American white pelicans and double-crested cormorants nesting at mixed-species colonies in the Upper Klamath Basin of Oregon and California during 2009-2014. Predation was evaluated by recovering PIT tags from tagged fish on bird colonies and calculating minimum predation rates.

Evans, A.F., D.A. Hewitt, Q. Payton, B.M. Cramer, K. Collis, and D.D. Roby. 2016. Colonial Waterbird Predation on Lost River and Shortnose Suckers in the Upper Klamath Basin, N. Am. J. Fish. Manage., 36(6): 1254-1268

New Fact sheet: USGS Science to Support Aquatic Animal Health: Healthy aquatic ecosystems are home to a diversity of plants, invertebrates, fish and wildlife. Aquatic animal populations face unprecedented threats to their health and survival from climate change, water shortages, habitat alteration, invasive species and environmental contaminants. These environmental stressors can directly impact the prevalence and severity of disease in aquatic populations. The fact sheet describes how USGS scientists are assisting managers with these issues through ecological investigations of aquatic animal diseases, field surveillance, and research to promote the development of mitigation strategies. The fact sheet also provides a map and links to USGS Science Centers conducting aquatic animal health research throughout the country.

Purcell, M.K., and Harris, M.C. 2016. Science to support aquatic animal health: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2016-3091, 2 p.

In the News
On October 17, USGS research ecologist Jeff Duda was mentioned in The Seattle Times article about how more fish have made it above the Glines Canyon dam site so far this season than in any other year since the removal of dams on the Elwha River.


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