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Effect of size of unfed fry at release on survival and growth of juvenile steelhead in streams and a hatchery (Study sites: Dworshak Hatchery, Silver Creek, and Twenty-Mile Creek; Stock: Dworshak hatchery; Year classes: 1996 and 1999)

October 1, 2012

We tested whether differences in size of unfed fry at release affected survival and growth of juvenile steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss in hatchery ponds and streams. Differences in fry size were produced by selecting and spawning females that differed in the mean size of their eggs. Experiments were initiated in 1996 and 1999 with hatchery steelhead returning to the Clearwater River, Idaho. Fry size groups were small (mean fork length=26.7 mm, mean weight=0.149 g) and large (28.1 mm, 0.197 g) in 1996 and small (27.5 mm, 0.159 g), medium (28.2 mm, 0.190 g), and large (28.9 mm, 0.201 g) in 1999. Survival in the hatchery to near the end of the standard one year rearing period and in streams to late summer, three months after release, was higher for the large than for the small group in 1996 but was similar among groups in 1999. Survival in streams to age - 1 appeared to show the same pattern (large>small in 1996; no difference in 1999), but differences among fry size groups in emigration as well as mortality may have been involved. The inconsistency between years may have resulted because some 1996 female parents of the small group had exceptionally small eggs and were a year younger than the other 1996 females and all 1999 females. Growth in the hatchery was similar among groups in both years whereas growth in streams was faster for the large than for the small group in both years and intermediate for the medium group in 1999. Growth in streams appeared to be limited by food availability. Initially large fry probably out - competed smaller fry for limited food; however, we found no evidence that dispersal from release sites or emigration from streams was caused by competitive displacement of small by larger fish.