During spring 2015, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) biologists noted that pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) were in poor condition during sampling associated with the Pallid Sturgeon Population Assessment Project and NGPC’s annual pallid sturgeon broodstock collection effort. These observations prompted concerns that reduced fish condition could compromise reproductive health and population growth of pallid sturgeon. There was a further concern that compromised condition could possibly be linked to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers management actions and increase jeopardy to the species. An evaluation request was made to the Missouri River Recovery Program and the Effects Analysis Team was chartered to evaluate the issue. Data on all Missouri River pallid sturgeon captures were requested and received from the National Pallid Sturgeon Database. All data were examined for completeness and accuracy; 12,053 records of captures between 200 millimeters fork length (mm FL) and 1,200 mm FL were accepted. We analyzed condition using (1) the condition formula (Kn) from Shuman and others (2011); (2) a second Kn formulation derived from the 12,053 records (hereafter referred to as “Alternative Kn”); and (3) an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) approach that did not rely on a Kn formulation. The Kn data were analyzed using group (average annual Kn) and individual (percentage in low, normal, and robust conditions) approaches. Using the Shuman Kn formulation, annual mean Kn was fairly static from 2005 to 2011 (although always higher in the upper basin), declined from 2012 to 2015, then remained either static (lower basin) or increasing (upper basin) in 2016. Under the Alternative Kn formulation, the upper basin showed no decline in Kn, whereas the lower basin displayed the same trend as the Shuman Kn formulation. Using both formulations, the individual approach revealed a more complex situation; at the same times and locations that there are fish in poor condition, there are nearby fish in normal or robust condition. The ANCOVA approach revealed that fish condition at size changed between 400 and 600 mm and that some of the apparent trend in low condition was caused by differences in sample size across the size range of the population (that is, greater catch of intermediate-sized fish compared to large fish). We examined basin, year, origin (hatchery compared to wild), segment, and size class for effects on condition and concluded that, since 2012, there has been an increase in the percentage of pallid sturgeon in low condition. There are basin, year, and segment effects; origin and size class do not seem to have an effect. The lower basin, in particular segment 9 (Platte River to Kansas River), had a high percentage of low-condition fish. Within the segment, there were bend-level effects, but the bend effect was not spatially contiguous.
We concluded that existing data confirm concerns about declining fish condition, especially in the segments between Sioux City, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri. Although the evidence is strong that fish condition has been in decline from 2011 to 2015, additional analysis of individual fish histories may provide more confidence in this conclusion; such analysis was beyond the scope of this effort but is part of our recommendations. The most recent data in 2016 indicate that decline of condition may have leveled off; however, the length of record is insufficient to determine whether recent declines are within the background range of variation. We recommend that monitoring of fish condition should be increased and enhanced with additional health metrics. We also recommend that, should condition continue to decline, processes are deployed to bring low-condition adult fish into the hatchery to improve nutrition and condition. We could not determine the cause of declining fish condition with available data, but we compiled information on several dominant hypotheses in two main categories: inter- or intraspecific competition for resources and habitat conditions. Data are insufficient to indicate a specific causation or solution, and it is possible that multiple causes apply. We make recommendations for additional research that can be pursued to address uncertainties in trends in fish health as well as potential causes.
|Title||Assessment of adult pallid sturgeon fish condition, Lower Missouri River—Application of new information to the Missouri River Recovery Program|
|Authors||Michael T. Randall, Michael E. Colvin, Kirk D. Steffensen, Timothy L. Welker, Landon L. Pierce, Robert B. Jacobson|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Open-File Report|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Columbia Environmental Research Center|