The in situ depths of juvenile salmonids Oncorhynchus spp. were studied to determine whether hydrostatic compensation was sufficient to protect them from gas bubble disease (GBD) during exposure to total dissolved gas (TDG) supersaturation from a regional program of spill at dams meant to improve salmonid passage survival. Yearling Chinook salmon O. tshawytscha and juvenile steelhead O. mykiss implanted with pressure-sensing radio transmitters were monitored from boats while they were migrating between the tailrace of Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River and the forebay of McNary Dam on the Columbia River during 1997-1999. The TDG generally decreased with distance from the tailrace of the dam and was within levels known to cause GBD signs and mortality in laboratory bioassays. Results of repeated-measures analysis of variance indicated that the mean depths of juvenile steelhead were similar throughout the study area, ranging from 2.0 m in the Snake River to 2.3 m near the McNary Dam forebay. The mean depths of yearling Chinook salmon generally increased with distance from Ice Harbor Dam, ranging from 1.5 m in the Snake River to 3.2 m near the forebay. Juvenile steelhead were deeper at night than during the day, and yearling Chinook salmon were deeper during the day than at night. The TDG level was a significant covariate in models of the migration depth and rates of each species, but no effect of fish size was detected. Hydrostatic compensation, along with short exposure times in the area of greatest TDG, reduced the effects of TDG exposure below those generally shown to elicit GBD signs or mortality. Based on these factors, our results indicate that the TDG limits of the regional spill program were safe for these juvenile salmonids.
Additional publication details
Migration depths of juvenile Chinook salmon and steelhead relative to total dissolved gas supersaturation in a Columbia River reservoir