A recent trend of enhancing freshwater emergent wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife has raised concern about the effects of such measures on juvenile salmonids. We undertook this study to quantify the degree and extent of juvenile Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. utilization of enhanced and unenhanced emergent wetlands within the floodplain of the lower Chehalis River, Washington, and to determine the fate of the salmon using them. Enhanced emergent wetlands contained water control structures that provided an outlet for fish emigration and a longer hydroperiod for rearing than unenhanced wetlands. Age-0 and age-1 coho salmon O. kisutch were the most common salmonid at all sites, enhanced wetlands having significantly higher age-1 abundance than unenhanced wetlands that were a similar distance from the main-stem river. Yearling coho salmon benefited from rearing in two enhanced wetland habitats, where their specific growth rate and minimum estimates of survival (1.43%/d by weight and 30%; 1.37%/d and 57%) were comparable to those in other side-channel rearing studies. Dissolved oxygen concentrations decreased in emergent wetlands throughout the season and approached the limits lethal to juvenile salmon by May or June each year. Emigration patterns suggested that age-0 and age-1 coho salmon emigrated as habitat conditions declined. This observation was further supported by the results of an experimental release of coho salmon. Survival of fish utilizing emergent wetlands was dependent on movement to the river before water quality decreased or stranding occurred from wetland desiccation. Thus, our results suggest that enhancing freshwater wetlands via water control structures can benefit juvenile salmonids, at least in the short term, by providing conditions for greater growth, survival, and emigration. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2006.
Additional publication details
Juvenile salmonid use of freshwater emergent wetlands in the floodplain and its implications for conservation management