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Kelt Reconditioning: A Research Project to Enhance Iteroparity in Columbia Basin Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) – 2003 Annual Report


Repeat spawning is a life history strategy that is expressed by some species from the family Salmonidae. Rates of repeat spawning for post-development Columbia River steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss populations range from 1.6 to 17%. It is expected that currently observed iteroparity rates for wild steelhead in the Basin are severely depressed due to development and operation of the hydropower system and various additional anthropogenic factors. Increasing the natural expression of historical repeat spawning rates using fish culturing methods could be a viable technique to assist the recovery of depressed steelhead populations. Reconditioning is the process of culturing post-spawned fish (kelts) in a captive environment until they are able to reinitiate feeding, growth, and redevelop mature gonads. Kelt reconditioning techniques were initially developed for Atlantic salmon Salmo salar and sea-trout S. trutta. The recent Endangered Species Act listing of many Columbia Basin steelhead populations has prompted interest in developing reconditioning methods for wild steelhead populations within the Basin. To test kelt steelhead reconditioning as a potential recovery tool, we captured wild emigrating steelhead kelts from the Yakima River and evaluated reconditioning (short and long-term) success and diet formulations at Prosser Hatchery on the Yakima River.
Steelhead kelts from the Yakima River were collected at the Chandler Juvenile Monitoring Facility (CJMF, located on the Yakima River at river kilometer 75.6) from 12 March to 28 May 2003. In total, 690 kelts were collected for reconditioning at Prosser Hatchery. Captive specimens represented 30.8% (690 of 2,235) of the entire 2002-2003 Yakima River wild steelhead population, based on fish ladder counts at Prosser Dam. All steelhead kelts were reconditioned in circular tanks, fed freeze-dried krill and received hw-wiegandt multi vit dietary supplement; long-term steelhead kelts also received Moore-Clark pellets. Oxytetracycline was administered to reconditioned fish to boost immune system response following the stress of initial capture. Formalin was also administered to prevent outbreaks of fungus and we also intubated the fish that were collected with IvermectinTM to control internal parasites (e.g., Salmincola spp.). Captured kelts were separated into two experimental groups: short-term and long-term reconditioning. Success indicators for the short-term experiment include the proportion of fish that survived the reconditioning process and the proportion of fish that initiated a feeding response. Short-term kelts were reconditioned for 3 to 7 weeks. Surviving specimens were released for natural spawning on June 4, 2003. Survival-to-release was very good for the short-term experiment, with a rate of 89.9%. Long-term steelhead kelts were held for 5-9 months then released on December 8, 2003. Longterm success indicators include the proportion of fish that survived the reconditioning process and the proportion of surviving fish that successfully remature. Survival and rematuration for long-term kelts increased as well with 62.4% surviving to release and 91.7 % rematuring. A total of 47 reconditioned kelts were radio tagged to assess their spawning migration behavior and success following release from Prosser Hatchery and to evaluate in-season homing fidelity.
As in previous years, the kelts reconditioned during this project will substantially bolster the number of repeat spawners in the Yakima River. Valuable knowledge regarding kelt husbandry, condition, and rearing environments were obtained during this research endeavor. The authors were very pleased with the high survival rates. Information collected during this feasibility study has been significantly incorporated into the experimental design for upcoming years of research, and is expected to continue to increase survival of long-term reconditioned fish and successful expression of iteroparity.


Douglas Hatch, Ryan Branstetter, Joe Blodgett, Bill Bosch, David Fast, and Todd Newsome


Hatch, D., R. Branstetter, J. Blodgett, B. Bosch, D. Fast, and T. Newsome. 2003. Kelt Reconditioning: A Research Project to Enhance Iteroparity in Columbia Basin Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) – 2003 Annual Report. Project No. 2000-017-00, BPA Report DOE/BP-00004185, 51 pages.



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CRITFC Technical Report