Migrating fish traversing velocity barriers are often forced to swim at speeds greater than their maximum sustained speed (Ums). Failure to select an appropriate swim speed under these conditions can prevent fish from successfully negotiating otherwise passable barriers. I propose a new model of a distance-maximizing strategy for fishes traversing velocity barriers, derived from the relationships between swim speed and fatigue time in both prolonged and sprint modes. The model predicts that fish will maximize traversed distance by swimming at a constant groundspeed against a range of flow velocities, and this groundspeed is equal to the negative inverse of the slope of the swim speed-fatigue time relationship for each mode. At a predictable flow velocity, they should switch from the optimal groundspeed for prolonged mode to that for sprint mode. Data from six migratory fish species (anadromous clupeids: American shad Alosa sapidissima, alewife A. pseudoharengus and blueback herring A. aestivalis; amphidromous: striped bass Morone saxatilis; and potomodromous species: walleye (previously known as Stizostedion vitrium) and white sucker Catostomus commersonii) were used to explore the ability of fish to approximate the predicted distance-maximizing behaviors, as well as the consequences of deviating from the optima. Fish volitionally sprinted up an open-channel flume against fixed flow velocities of 1.5-4.5 m s-1, providing data on swim speeds and fatigue times, as well as their groundspeeds. Only anadromous clupeids selected the appropriate distance-maximizing groundspeed at both prolonged and sprint modes. The other three species maintained groundspeeds appropriate to the prolonged mode, even when they should have switched to the sprint optima. Because of this, these species failed to maximize distance of ascent. The observed behavioral variability has important implications both for distributional limits and fishway design.
Additional publication details
Optimal swim speeds for traversing velocity barriers: An analysis of volitional high-speed swimming behavior of migratory fishes