Hankin and Reeves' (1988) approach to estimating fish abundance in small streams has been applied in stream fish studies across North America. However, their population estimator relies on two key assumptions: (1) removal estimates are equal to the true numbers of fish, and (2) removal estimates are highly correlated with snorkel counts within a subset of sampled stream units. Violations of these assumptions may produce suspect results. To determine possible sources of the assumption violations, I used data on the abundance of steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss from Hankin and Reeves' (1988) in a simulation composed of 50,000 repeated, stratified systematic random samples from a spatially clustered distribution. The simulation was used to investigate effects of a range of removal estimates, from 75% to 100% of true fish abundance, on overall stream fish population estimates. The effects of various categories of removal-estimates-to-snorkel-count correlation levels (r = 0.75-1.0) on fish population estimates were also explored. Simulation results indicated that Hankin and Reeves' approach may produce poor results unless removal estimates exceed at least 85% of the true number of fish within sampled units and unless correlations between removal estimates and snorkel counts are at least 0.90. A potential modification to Hankin and Reeves' approach is the inclusion of environmental covariates that affect detection rates of fish into the removal model or other mark-recapture model. A potential alternative approach is to use snorkeling combined with line transect sampling to estimate fish densities within stream units. As with any method of population estimation, a pilot study should be conducted to evaluate its usefulness, which requires a known (or nearly so) population of fish to serve as a benchmark for evaluating bias and precision of estimators.
Additional publication details
Hankin and Reeves' approach to estimating fish abundance in small streams: Limitations and alternatives