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Evaluation of larval lamprey survival following salvage: A pilot study

October 1, 2021

Larval lampreys (Entosphenus tridentatus and Lampetra spp.) are vulnerable to anthropogenic water-level fluctuations that can dewater their habitat. Dewatering events occur regularly in the Columbia River Basin for operation and management of hydropower facilities, seasonal or maintenance closures of irrigation diversions, and in-water construction projects, including for habitat restoration. Salvage efforts which can be initiated before, during, and after dewatering events are resource-intensive and are conducted based on the assumption that salvage will reduce lamprey mortality. This pilot study was the first formal assessment of the efficacy of salvage efforts, evaluating the survival and performance of larval lamprey following various salvage techniques.

Lampreys were salvaged during dewatering events at three field sites under variable environmental conditions (summer and fall of 2020) and then held in the laboratory for 60 days to monitor survival, growth, and burrowing performance. Four salvage treatments were defined to represent combinations of typical salvage techniques and stressors, including multiple passes of standard electrofishing (SEF), lamprey-specific electrofishing (LEF), and modified lamprey-specific electrofishing (MLEF; probes in direct contact with dewatered, but moist substrate) as well as extended exposure on the surface and walking on sediment where lampreys were burrowed. Control groups did not experience dewatering and were collected using LEF in areas away from treatment groups. Treatments were designed to increase in intensity, from treatment 1 (walking and exposure) to treatment 4 (multiple passes of SEF, LEF and MLEF). Study sites included an earthen hatchery rearing pond (North Toutle Hatchery) dewatered in July, and two irrigation diversions (Wapato and Sunnyside diversions on Yakima River) dewatered at the end of the irrigation season in October. Treatments were executed inside circular 1 m2 enclosures that were randomly positioned in habitats expected to be dewatered. A solid, weighted ring at the bottom of the enclosure penetrated the sediment and netting extended through the water column to a floating upper ring. We deployed eight enclosures per treatment at each test site, executed the four salvage treatments, collected lamprey from within each enclosure and transported them to the laboratory, along with the control groups, for the 60-day holding period. Burrowing performance was tested in sand 1 day after the field effort and in field-collected sediment 30 days after the field effort. Mortality was documented and lamprey were measured at 1, 30, and 60 days in the laboratory and fish weights were used to calculate standard growth rate (SGR) for each site and treatment group.

We collected 328 larval lampreys at our three test sites, including 71 controls and 257 larvae exposed to dewatering and salvage treatments. Overall mortality for the 60-day laboratory holding period was 11.9%. Most mortality occurred within 1-day after treatment (51.3%) and there was limited mortality past 30 days (2.6%). At the North Toutle Hatchery, we observed substantial mortality during the field tests in July, both inside and outside of our test enclosures. Mortality within our test enclosures ranged from 96.7 to 98.8% for treatment 1, 45.9 to 52.2% for treatment 3 and 6.7 to 7.1% for treatment 4. The elevated mortality at this site and logistical challenges with the execution of treatments 1 and 2 resulted in few fish (5 total for treatment 1) or no fish (treatment 2) available for testing in the laboratory. Only one larval lamprey died during field tests at the Wapato and Sunnyside irrigation diversions during testing in October. The single mortality was in treatment 1 (11.1%) and no mortalities were observed outside of the test enclosures.

We used logistic regression to estimate survival of larval lampreys transported to the laboratory and held for 24 h. The Wapato and Sunnyside field sites were pooled for logistic regression and the North Toutle Hatchery site was analyzed separately due to dramatically different environmental conditions. We found that treatment 1 reduced larval survival more than any other treatment during both the summer and fall dewatering events. Trends among survival for treatments 2-4 were less clear. The unique stressor included in the first treatment, but not in other treatments, was a 2-hour exposure period during which larvae were left lying on the surface of the sediment. Treatment 1 also experienced a walking action (foot pressure on the surface of the exposed sediment). The walking action was also included in treatment 4, both before and after dewatering, along with multiple passes of various electrofishing techniques, as this treatment was designed to be a worst-case scenario for lamprey salvage. Despite what appeared to be significant stressors associated with treatment 4, the logistic regression for survival up to 24 hours in the laboratory showed that the odds of surviving treatment 4 were 16 times higher than the odds of surviving treatment 1 at Wapato and Sunnyside (combined). The same comparison at the North Toutle Hatchery showed the odds were 226 times higher for lamprey to survive treatment 4 compared to treatment 1.

Lamprey from all study sites initiated burrowing activity with median times less than 10.5 seconds in both sand (day 1) and field-collected sediment (day 30). The fastest burrowing start times were less than 1.0 second and the slowest was 3.2 minutes. Lamprey behavioral responses during burrowing ability tests were variable. Some lampreys immediately moved from the release location near the surface of the water toward the sediment and began burrowing while others swam around the aquarium near the surface of the water before exploring the sediment to select a burrowing location. The median time to complete burrowing for all treatment groups and sample periods ranged from 9.9 to 48.1 seconds.

No significant differences in SGR were detected between treatment and control groups at any test site. Laboratory water temperatures for the North Toutle Hatchery study groups were maintained at 15°C, giving lamprey a growth advantage compared to the Wapato and Sunnyside groups which were maintained at 10℃. SGR for lamprey collected at the North Toutle Hatchery ranged from 0.83% weight gain/day for controls to 2.04%/day for treatment 3. SGR at Wapato ranged from 0.27 to 0.67%/day and from 0.60 to 0.90 %/day at Sunnyside. Overall, SGR was consistently lower at every site for the controls compared to any of the treatment groups, although none of the differences were significant. The variability at some sites in initial lamprey size, combined with inherent variability in growth rates, limited our ability to make conclusions about how different salvage treatments influenced SGR.

Treatment 1 stood out among the salvage treatments at all study sites. In this treatment, lampreys exposed on the surface of the sediment, awaiting salvage, were vulnerable to reduced survival, even under mild environmental conditions. The risk of mortality was greatest for the summer dewatering event at the North Toutle Hatchery. The remaining treatments, even with multiple passes of various electrofishing techniques, did not generally have large negative impacts on lamprey during our tests. Lamprey survival rates for these treatments were relatively high, especially at the fall dewatering sites when environmental conditions were mild. Thus, salvage efforts, despite being resource intensive, likely have limited negative outcomes for larval lamprey and make substantial contributions to lamprey conservation efforts.

Publication Year 2021
Title Evaluation of larval lamprey survival following salvage: A pilot study
Authors Theresa L. Liedtke, Julianne E. Harris, Joseph J. Skalicky, Lisa K. Weiland
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Index ID 70239846
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center