Diversion of out-imigrant juvenile salmon into unscreened irrigation and hydroelectric canals is thought to have contributed significantly to declining populations of anadromous salmonids in the Pacific Northwest but is seldom studied in detail. Here we describe a program to study the fate of Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha fry diverted into the unscreened Rangitata Diversion Race (RDR) on the Rangitata River, New Zealand, by trapping fish in a random sample of on-farm canals in irrigation schemes (systems) served by the RDR. The catch rate at a site 9 km below the intake was strongly related to Rangitata River flow, but catches further downstream were unrelated to flow. Most fish entering the RDR were fry or early postfry (< 70 mm fork length [FL]), but up to 92% of the fish trapped in on-farm canals were fingerlings (> 70 mm FL), suggesting that many such fish became resident in the RDR for up to 3 months. Consequently, our estimate of the total number of fish leaving the RDR via on-farm canals (204,200 fish; 95% confidence limits = 127, 100 and 326,700) is a conservative measure of the number lost from the Rangitata River because it does not allow for mortality within the RDR. We did not quantify the proportion of Rangitata River out-migrants that entered the RDR, but our results suggest that this figure was at least 5% and that it may have been as high as 25%, depending on mortality rates within the Rangitata River main stem and the RDR itself.
Additional publication details
Quantifying production of salmon fry in an unscreened irrigation system: A case study on the Rangitata River, New Zealand