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Development of a two-stage life cycle model for Oncorhynchus kisutch (coho salmon) in the upper Cowlitz River Basin, Washington

July 8, 2020

Recovery of salmon populations in the upper Cowlitz River Basin depends on trap-and-haul efforts owing to impassable dams. Therefore, successful recovery depends on the collection of out-migrating juvenile salmon at Cowlitz Falls Dam (CFD) for transport below downstream dams, as well as the collection of adults for transport upstream from the dams. Tacoma Power began downstream fish collection efforts at CFD in the mid-1990s and has been working consistently since then to improve collection efficiency to support self-sustaining salmon and steelhead (Onchorhynchus spp.) populations in the upper Cowlitz River Basin. Although much work has focused on estimating fish collection efficiency (FCE), there has been relatively little focus on modeling population dynamics to understand how fish collection efficiency and other factors drive production of both juvenile and adult salmon over their life cycle. As a first step towards understanding the factors affecting population dynamics of Oncorhynchus kisutch (coho salmon) in the upper Cowlitz River Basin, we developed a statistical life cycle model using adult escapement and age structure data, juvenile collection data, and juvenile fish collection efficiency estimates. The goal of the statistical life cycle model is to estimate annual production and survival during two critical life-stage transitions: the freshwater production from escapement of adults upstream from CFD to collection of juveniles at CFD, and the juvenile-to-adult survival from the time of collection at the dam to the return of adults. To structure the life cycle model, we used the Ricker stock-recruitment model to estimate juvenile production from the number of parent spawners. This approach allowed us to account for density dependence at high spawner abundances while estimating annual productivity, defined as the number of juveniles produced per spawner at low spawner abundance. We then expressed productivity as a function two key variables affecting the number of juveniles collected and transported at CFD: (1) annual FCE, and (2) the annual number of days that spill occurred at CFD from September 1 to April 30.

Our key findings were as follows:

  1. FCE was the primary factor affecting productivity of coho salmon upstream from CFD because FCE affects the number of juveniles that survive to continue downstream migration;
  2. Juvenile-to-adult return (JAR) rates were relatively high considering that harvest was included in the estimate, averaging about 3.6 percent and ranging as high as 9.1 percent, suggesting that adult coho salmon may be able to return to CFD at sustainable population sizes; and
  3. Much variation in the estimates of juvenile fish production upriver of CFD was unexplained even after adult escapement and FCE were accounted for, suggesting that the model may be improved by exploring different covariates and model structures for juvenile production as well as JAR rates.

Additionally, by including FCE in the model, we estimated that the median pre-collection productivity, defined as the number of juveniles produced per spawner when FCE=1, was 108.4 juveniles per spawner. Because this two-stage life cycle model partitions factors that affect fish production in river compared to the ocean environment and fish life stages, the model estimates should help inform fishery managers about the overall role that fish collection at CFD may have on the recovery and sustainability of coho salmon populations.

Publication Year 2020
Title Development of a two-stage life cycle model for Oncorhynchus kisutch (coho salmon) in the upper Cowlitz River Basin, Washington
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201068
Authors John M. Plumb, Russell W. Perry
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1068
Index ID ofr20201068
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center