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Evaluation of movement and survival of juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) in the Klickitat River, Washington, 2018–2019

August 27, 2021

A 2-year telemetry study was conducted April–July in 2018 and 2019 to evaluate migration behavior and survival of juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and coho salmon (O. kisutch) in the Klickitat River, Washington. A total of 612 natural-origin steelhead, collected in a smolt trap on the Klickitat River, were tagged, released, and monitored as they outmigrated through the lower 17 kilometers (km) of the Klickitat River, and in the 52 km reach between the mouth of the Klickitat River and Bonneville Dam. The primary goal of the steelhead study was to estimate survival through the Klickitat River delta, the 2 km reach located at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia rivers. A total of 400 hatchery-origin coho salmon were tagged and released at the Klickitat Hatchery and monitored during migration through the lower 68 km of the Klickitat River and in the Columbia River to Bonneville Dam. The primary goals of the coho salmon study were (1) to estimate survival through the Klickitat River delta and (2) to determine residence time in the Klickitat River to assess potential for interactions with rearing natural-origin fish.

Many tagged steelhead and coho salmon moved quickly downstream and left the Klickitat River shortly after release. Median elapsed time from release to Klickitat River exit ranged from 1.4 to 1.5 days for steelhead, and from 5.1 to 12.9 days for coho salmon during the two-year study. Ten percent of the tagged coho salmon in 2018 remained in the Klickitat River for 21.9–29.2 days before entering the Columbia River. In 2019, ten percent of the tagged coho salmon remained in the Klickitat River for 36.0–45.5 days before entering the Columbia River. This suggests that some hatchery fish spend considerable time in the river after hatchery release. Migration rates were consistently slow for both species in the Klickitat River delta compared to upstream reaches of the free-flowing Klickitat River and downstream reaches of the Columbia River. Similarly, reach-specific survival was highest in free-flowing reaches of the Klickitat River and lowest near the Klickitat River delta. Cumulative survival from release to sites located downstream of the Klickitat River delta were 0.78 for juvenile steelhead in both 2018 and 2019, and 0.57 and 0.61 for juvenile coho salmon in 2018 and 2019. Standardized survival estimates (survival per 100 river kilometers) were 0.243 in 2018 and 0.302 in 2019 for steelhead, and 0.100 in 2018 and 0.153 in 2019 for coho salmon. These estimates of standardized survival are low compared to similar estimates from other rivers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. This study provided new information about survival and residence time of juvenile steelhead and coho salmon in the Klickitat River. Additional studies would be helpful to understand factors affecting outmigration survival and overlap between hatchery-origin and natural-original juvenile steelhead and coho salmon in the system.