Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon life history investigations

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Predation by nonnative fishes is one factor that has been implicated in the decline of juvenile salmonids in the Pacific Northwest. Impoundment of much of the Snake and Columbia rivers has altered food webs and created habitat favorable for species such as Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu. Smallmouth Bass are common throughout the Columbia River basin and have become the most abundant predator in lower Snake River reservoirs (Zimmerman and Parker 1995). This is a concern for Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (hereafter, subyearlings) that may be particularly vulnerable due to their relatively small size and because their main-stem rearing habitats often overlap or are in close proximity to habitats used by Smallmouth Bass (Curet 1993; Tabor et al. 1993).

Concern over juvenile salmon predation spawned a number of large-scale studies to quantify its effect in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (Poe et al. 1991; Rieman et al. 1991; Vigg et al. 1991; Fritts and Pearsons 2004; Naughton et al. 2004). Smallmouth Bass predation represented 9% of total salmon consumption by predatory fishes in John Day Reservoir, Columbia River, from 1983 through 1986 (Rieman et al. 1991). In transitional habitat between the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River and McNary Reservoir, juvenile salmon (presumably subyearlings) were found in 65% of Smallmouth Bass (>200 mm) stomachs and comprised 59% of the diet by weight (Tabor et al. 1993). Within Lower Granite Reservoir on the Snake River, Naughton et al. (2004) showed that monthly consumption (based on weight) ranged from 5% in the upper reaches of the reservoir to 11% in the forebay. However, studies in the Snake River were conducted soon after Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon (NMFS 1992). During this time, Fall Chinook Salmon abundance was at an historic low, which may explain why consumption rates were relatively low compared to those from studies conducted in the Columbia and Yakima rivers where abundance was higher (e.g., Tabor et al. 1993; Fritts and Pearsons 2004).

We speculate that predation on subyearlings by Smallmouth Bass in the Snake River may have increased in recent years for several reasons. Since their ESA listing, recovery measures implemented for Snake River Fall Chinook salmon have resulted in a large increase in the juvenile population (Connor et al. 2013). Considering that subyearlings probably now make up a larger portion of the forage fish population, it is plausible they should make up a large portion of Smallmouth Bass diets. Second, migrating subyearlings delay downstream movement in the transition zones of the Clearwater River and Snake River for varying lengths of time (Tiffan et al. 2010), which increases their exposure and vulnerability to predators. Spatial overlap in locations of Smallmouth Bass and subyearlings that died during migration provides support for this (Tiffan et al. 2010). Finally, the later outmigration of subyearlings from the Clearwater River results in their presence in Lower Granite Reservoir during the warmest summer months when predation rates of Smallmouth Bass should be highest.

In 2016, we focused our efforts on Smallmouth Bass predation in Lower Granite Reservoir downstream of the transition zones and the confluence area where we worked during 2012–2015. Similar to past years, our first objective was to quantify Smallmouth Bass consumption rates of subyearlings, determine relative bass abundance, and describe bass diets. In addition, Tiffan et al. (2016a) posited that predation risk to subyearlings may be higher in shoreline habitats that are more suitable for Smallmouth Bass and lower in shoreline habitats that are more suitable for subyearlings. To test this hypothesis, our second objective examines the relationship between Smallmouth Bass predation of subyearlings and habitat suitability.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Other Government Series
Snake River Fall Chinook Salmon life history investigations
Year Published:
Bonneville Power Administration
Contributing office(s):
Western Fisheries Research Center
21 p.
United States
Idaho, Washington
Other Geospatial:
Lower Granite Reservoir