Weirs: Counting and sampling adult salmonids in streams and rivers

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Compiled by: David H. JohnsonBrianna M. ShrierJennifer S. O'NealJohn A. KnutzenXanthippe AugerotThomas A. O'Neal, and Todd N. Pearsons


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Weirs—which function as porous barriers built across stream—have long been used to capture migrating fish in flowing waters. For example, the Netsilik peoples of northern Canada used V-shaped weirs constructed of river rocks gathered onsite to capture migrating Arctic char Salvelinus alpinus (Balikci 1970). Similarly, fences constructed of stakes and a latticework of willow branches or staves were used by Native Americans to capture migrating salmon in streams along the West Coast of North America (Stewart 1994). In modern times, weirs have also been used in terminal fisheries and to capture brood fish for use in fish culture. Weirs have been used to gather data on age structure, condition, sex ratio, spawning escapement, abundance, and migratory patterns of fish in streams. One of the critical elements of fisheries management and stock assessment of salmonids is a count of adult fish returning to spawn. Weirs are frequently used to capture or count fish to determine status and trends of populations or direct inseason management of fisheries; generally, weirs are the standard against which other techniques are measured. To evaluate fishery management actions, the number of fish escaping to spawn is often compared to river-specific target spawning requirements (O’Connell and Dempson 1995). A critical factor in these analyses is the determination of total run size (O’Connell 2003). O’Connell compared methods of run-size estimation against absolute counts from a rigid weir and concluded that, given the uncertainty of estimators, the absolute counts obtained at the weir wer significantly better than modeled estimates, which deviated as much as 50–60% from actual counts. The use of weirs is generally restricted to streams and small rivers because of construction expense, formation of navigation barriers, and the tendency of weirs to clog with debris, which can cause flooding and collapse of the structure (Hubert 1996). When feasible, however, weirs are generally regarded as the most accurate technique available to quantify escapement as the result is supposedly an absolute count (Cousens et al. 1982). Weirs also provide the opportunity to capture fish for observation and sampling of biological characteristics and tissues; they may also serve as recapture sites for basin-wide, mark–recapture population estimates. Temporary weirs are useful in monitoring wild populations of salmonids as well as for capturing broodstock for artificial propagation.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Weirs: Counting and sampling adult salmonids in streams and rivers
ISBN 978-1-888569-92-6
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher American Fisheries Society
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 14 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Instruction
Larger Work Title Salmonid field protocols handbook: techniques for assessing status and trends in salmon and trout populations.
First page 385
Last page 398
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N