Evaluating Steelhead Kelt Treatments to Increase Iteroparous Spawners in the Yakima River Basin
Steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss are iteroparous, distinguishing them from Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. that are semelparous. In this study we evaluated enhancement techniques that exploit this life history strategy to facilitate species restoration and recovery. In the Columbia River basin, where the natural ecosystem has been substantially altered over several decades due to human influence, all steelhead populations are listed as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. One factor believed to be limiting survival of Columbia River kelt (postspawned) steelhead is poor migration success to the ocean past several dams. We evaluated three treatments for kelts captured in the Yakima River basin from 2002 to 2011: (1) transport and release below Bonneville Dam (to provide unimpeded access to the ocean); (2) short-term reconditioning (holding and feeding in an artificial environment to facilitate gonad maturation) with transport; and (3) long-term reconditioning. These treatments were compared with an in-river migration control group to identify differences in the rate at which kelts survived and returned to Prosser Dam for potential repeat spawning (hereafter repeat spawners). The long-term reconditioning treatment exhibited the highest return rate of repeat spawners (range, 11.5–17.6%). The short-term reconditioning treatment with transport downstream from Bonneville Dam had a 3.2% return rate. The transport only treatment exhibited the lowest return rate (0.9%); this was only one third of the control group’s return rate (2.7%). Our results indicate that long-term steelhead kelt reconditioning is more successful than either transportation or in-river migration alternatives at increasing potential repeat spawner abundance and providing recovery benefits in river systems that have experienced substantial losses in natural productivity due to loss of habitat and habitat connectivity.
Trammell, J.L.J., D.E. Fast, D.R. Hatch, W.J. Bosch, R. Branstetter, A.L. Pierce, J.W. Blodgett, and C.R. Frederiksen. 2016. Evaluating steelhead kelt treatments to increase iteroparous spawners in the Yakima River Basin. North American Journal Fisheries Management 36(4):876-887. Online at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02755947.2016.1165767.