The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have been working with the Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County, Washington (Grant PUD), to increase their understanding of predator-prey interactions in the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric Project (PRP), Columbia River, Washington. For this study, the PRP is defined as the area approximately 6 kilometers upstream of Wanapum Dam to the Priest Rapids Dam tailrace, 397.1 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. Past year's low survival numbers of juvenile steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) through Wanapum and Priest Rapids Dams has prompted Grant PUD, on behalf of the Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee, to focus research efforts on steelhead migration and potential causal mechanisms for low survival. Steelhead passage survival in 2009 was estimated at 0.944 through the Wanapum Development (dam and reservoir) and 0.881 through the Priest Rapids Development and for 2010, steelhead survival was 0.855 for Wanapum Development and 0.904 for Priest Rapids Development. The USGS and WDFW implemented field collection efforts in 2011 for northern pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus oregonensis), smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu), and walleye (Sander vitreus, formerly Stizostedion vitreum) and their diets in the PRP. For predator indexing, we collected 948 northern pikeminnow, 237 smallmouth bass, 18 walleye, and two largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). The intent of this study was to provide standardized predation indices within individual reaches of the PRP to discern spatial variability in predation patterns. Furthermore, the results of the 2011 study were compared to results of a concurrent steelhead survival study. Our results do not indicate excessively high predation of Oncorhynchus spp. occurring by northern pikeminnow or smallmouth bass in any particular reach throughout the study area. Although we found Oncorhynchus spp. in the predator diets, the relative proportion was small. Predation index values in 2011 were highest in the Priest Rapids mid-reservoir reach for northern pikeminnow and smallmouth bass. Predation indices generally were high in the tailrace areas for northern pikeminnow, and high in the forebay areas for smallmouth bass. Steelhead survival in 2011 was consistently high throughout the study period and the PRP, although predation indices were relatively low, which suggests that fish predation did not significantly affect steelhead survival throughout the study area. Our efforts to correlate retrospective predation indices with survival estimates for 2009 and 2010 did provide some evidence for high predation occurring in some of the same reaches, which had low steelhead survival, such as the Priest Rapids tailrace in 2009. However, for 2010, our results indicated that the loss of salmonids to predation were more contradictory to the survival results, where predation indices were higher for reaches in the Priest Rapids Development than in the Wanapum Development. Establishing correlations between steelhead survival and observed predation indices for previous research years, in 2009 and 2010 was confounded by the lack of coordination of these two studies during the initial study design, implementation period for such an analysis. Future efforts to correlate steelhead survival with fish predation would benefit from efforts to better coordinate the studies with consistent study reaches, and better timing of concurrent efforts.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Assessing fish predation on migrating juvenile steelhead and a retrospective comparison to steelhead survival through the Priest Rapids Hydroelectric Project, Columbia River, Washington, 2009-11