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Examination of movements and survival of Pahranagat roundtail chub (Gila robusta jordani) in the Pahranagat River and adjacent waters, Nevada, 2014–18

July 8, 2019

Executive Summary

The Pahranagat roundtail chub (Gila robusta jordani; hereinafter “chub”) was federally listed as endangered in 1970 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1970). In the decades following the listing, the chub has declined to extremely low numbers (Tuttle and others, 1990; Guadalupe, 2014). Loss of available habitat appears to be one of the main reasons for the decline of this species. Historically, the chub are assumed to have had approximately 30 kilometers (km) of habitat available to them, whereas currently they appear to primarily occupy 3.5 km of the Pahranagat River, up to 2.5 km of the Pahranagat Ditch, and a small portion of the Pahranagat Drain. Each year in mid-March, a gate at the top of the fish passage structure is closed to divert water down the Pahranagat Ditch, almost completely eliminating any flow into the Pahranagat Drain. The gate is usually removed in mid-October, allowing for flow to reoccur in the Pahranagat Drain. Due to the intermittent nature of the Pahranagat Drain, it is considered a sink for the species, and yearly salvage operations are conducted to remove chub from the Pahranagat Drain. The lower portion of the Pahranagat Ditch is also thought to be a sink for the species, due to high flows and limited structure potentially pushing the chub out of the system. Movements of passive-integrated-transponder (PIT) tagged chub indicate that adults and larger juveniles are not likely to be swept downstream to the point of exiting the system; however, the smaller juveniles and larvae are likely to be entrained in the Pahranagat Drain and possibly the lower portion of the Pahranagat Ditch. Only 2 of 64 PIT-tagged chub (3 percent) were observed to exit the system through the Pahranagat Ditch as they were last recorded on the Lower Ditch antenna. No PIT-tagged chub was observed exiting the system through the Pahranagat Drain.

Although capture location was a good predictor of where PIT tagged fish were primarily detected, fish were observed to meander throughout the available habitat. Chub captured and released in the Pahranagat River were detected more often in the upper portion of the Pahranagat River, whereas chub captured and released in the Pahranagat Ditch were more often detected in and near the Pahranagat Ditch. This suggests some degree of site fidelity. However, the two chub that were captured in the Pahranagat Drain and relocated into the middle portion of the Pahranagat River near the Between Bridges antenna were not able to get back to the closed off Pahranagat Drain (closed to fish passage from mid-March through mid-October), but were primarily detected in and near the Pahranagat Ditch. Movements from one end of the system to the other end of the system (3.5 km) could occur within a day and there were no observed seasonal location preferences for the chubs. However, there was more activity in the uppermost sites during fall and winter, presumedly associated with spawning. Furthermore, chub were found to be more active during the daylight hours in fall and winter verses spring and summer. During summer, chubs were the least active, especially during daylight hours.

Most of the fish tagged were estimated to be adults based on size; 84 percent of fish tagged in this study were greater than 100 millimeters (mm) total length (TL). One chub monitored during this study (139 mm TL when tagged) was observed for a total of 714 days following capture, indicating that chub can survive at least 3 years. Furthermore, two fish greater than 200 mm TL when tagged were detected for another 7 months after tagging, which supports life history descriptions in the Recovery Plan that states Pahranagat roundtail chub can reach 250 mm TL (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). In addition to natural mortality events, fish may die from extreme temperatures or other environmental stressors. None of the fish tagged in 2014 or 2015 were detected past August 31, 2016, which suggests that there may have been some external influence causing mortality of the few remaining fish from May 1, 2016, to August 31, 2016. Although habitat for chub has been limited for decades to a very small section of the Pahranagat River and the Pahranagat Ditch (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998), this study suggests that recent declining numbers of chub are most likely due to mortality events and not due to the fish emigrating from the system through the Pahranagat Ditch or the Pahranagat Drain.

Publication Year 2019
Title Examination of movements and survival of Pahranagat roundtail chub (Gila robusta jordani) in the Pahranagat River and adjacent waters, Nevada, 2014–18
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191075
Authors Barbara A. Martin, Brian S. Hayes, Alta C. Harris
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1075
Index ID ofr20191075
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center