Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are the most abundant species of salmon spawning in the Yukon River drainage system, and they support important personal use, subsistence, and commercial fisheries. Chum salmon returning to the Tanana River in Interior Alaska are a significant contribution to the overall abundance of Yukon River chum salmon and an improved understanding of habitat use is needed to improve conservation of this important resource. We characterized spawning habitat of chum salmon using the mainstem Tanana River as part of a larger study to document spawning distributions and habitat use in this river. Areas of spawning activity were located using radiotelemetry and aerial helicopter surveys. At 11 spawning sites in the mainstem Tanana River, we recorded inter-gravel and surface-water temperatures and vertical hydraulic gradient (an indication of the direction of water flux) in substrate adjacent to salmon redds. At all locations, vertical hydraulic gradient adjacent to redds was positive, indicating that water was upwelling through the gravel. Inter-gravel temperatures adjacent to redds generally were warmer than surface water at most locations and were more stable than surface-water temperature. Inter-gravel water temperature adjacent to redds ranged from 2.6 to 5.8 degrees Celsius, whereas surface-water temperature ranged from greater than 0 to 5.5 degrees Celsius. Some sites were affected more by extremes in air temperature than others. At these sites, inter-gravel water temperature profiles were variable (with ranges similar to those observed in surface water), suggesting that even though upwelling habitats provide a stable thermal incubation environment, eggs and embryos still may be affected by extremes in air temperature. Fine sand and silt covered redds at multiple sites and were evidence of increased river flow during the winter months, which may be a potential source of increased mortality during egg-to-fry development. This study provides documentation of spawning by fall chum salmon and is the first study to continuously measure inter-gravel water temperature at sites in the mainstem Tanana River.
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USGS Numbered Series
Characteristics of fall chum salmon spawning habitat on a mainstem river in Interior Alaska