Current management of the Klamath River includes prescribed minimum discharges intended partly to increase survival of juvenile coho salmon during their seaward migration in the spring. To determine if fish survival was related to river discharge, we estimated apparent survival and migration rates of yearling coho salmon in the Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam. The primary goals were to determine if discharge at Iron Gate Dam affected coho salmon survival and if results from hatchery fish could be used as a surrogate for the limited supply of wild fish. Fish from hatchery and wild origins that had been surgically implanted with radio transmitters were released into the Klamath River slightly downstream of Iron Gate Dam at river kilometer 309. Tagged fish were used to estimate apparent survival between, and passage rates at, a series of detection sites as far downstream as river kilometer 33. Conclusions were based primarily on data from hatchery fish, because wild fish were only available in 2 of the 4 years of study. Based on an information-theoretic approach, apparent survival of hatchery and wild fish was similar, despite differences in passage rates and timing, and was lowest in the 54 kilometer (km) reach between release and the Scott River. Models representing the hypothesis that a short-term tagging- or handling-related mortality occurred following release were moderately supported by data from wild fish and weakly supported by data from hatchery fish. Estimates of apparent survival of hatchery fish through the 276 km study area ranged from 0.412 (standard error [SE] 0.048) to 0.648 (SE 0.070), depending on the year, and represented an average of 0.790 per 100 km traveled. Estimates of apparent survival of wild fish through the study area were 0.645 (SE 0.058) in 2006 and 0.630 (SE 0.059) in 2009 and were nearly identical to the results from hatchery fish released on the same dates. The data and models examined supported positive effects of water temperature, river discharge, and fish weight as factors affecting apparent survival in the Klamath River upstream of the confluence with the Shasta River, but few of the variables examined were supported as factors affecting survival farther downstream. The effect of water temperature on apparent survival upstream of the Shasta River was greater than Iron Gate Dam discharge, which was greater than fish weight. The estimated effect on apparent survival between release and the Shasta River with each 1degree Celsius increase in water temperature was 1.4 times the effect of a 100 cubic feet per second increase in Iron Gate Dam discharge and 2.5 times the effect of a 1 gram increase in fish weight, and the effects of discharge and weight diminished at higher water temperatures up to the 17.91 degrees Celsius maximum present in the data examined. The rate of passage at the detection site near the confluence with the Shasta River was primarily affected by date of release, and water temperature was the only factor supported at the site near the confluence with the Scott River. Passage rates at sites downstream of the Scott River were affected by several of the variables examined, but the estimated effects were small and often imprecise. Results from this study indicate that discharge at Iron Gate Dam has a positive effect on apparent survival of yearling coho salmon in the Klamath River upstream of the Shasta River, but the effects are smaller than those of water temperature and are mediated by it. The results also support the use of hatchery fish as surrogates for wild fish in studies of apparent survival, but the available evidence suggests that study fish should be released well upstream of the area of interest, due to short-term differences in survival and migration behavior of hatchery and wild fish after release.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of Iron Gate Dam discharge and other factors on the survival and migration of juvenile coho salmon in the lower Klamath River, northern California, 2006-09