Skagit River coho salmon life history model—Users’ guide

Open-File Report 2017-1125
Prepared in cooperation with Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe
By: , and 



Natural resource management is conducted in the context of multiple anthropogenic stressors and is further challenged owing to changing climate. Experiments to determine the effects of climate change on complex ecological systems are nearly impossible. However, using a simulation model to synthesize current understanding of key ecological processes through the life cycle of a fish population can provide a platform for exploring potential effects of and management responses to changing conditions. Potential climate-change scenarios can be imposed, responses can be observed, and the effectiveness of potential actions can be evaluated. This approach is limited owing to future conditions likely deviating in range and timing from conditions used to create the model so that the model is expected to become obsolete. In the meantime, however, the modeling process explicitly states assumptions, clarifies information gaps, and provides a means to better understand which relationships are robust and which are vulnerable to changing climate by observing whether and why model output diverges from actual observations through time. The purpose of the model described herein is to provide such a decision-support tool regarding coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) salmon for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe of Washington State.

The Skagit coho salmon model is implemented in a system dynamics format and has three primary stocks—(1) predicted smolts, (2) realized smolts, and (3) escapement. “Predicted smolts” are the number of smolts expected based on the number of spawners in any year and the Ricker production curve. Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) return to the Skagit River in odd years, and when they overlap with juvenile rearing coho salmon, coho smolt production is substantially higher than in non-pink years. Therefore, the model uses alternative Ricker equations to predict smolts depending on whether their juvenile year was a pink or non-pink year. The stock “realized smolts” is calculated based on the expected effect of streamflow conditions to alter the productivity predicted by the Ricker curve. Adverse conditions include scouring flow events that occur when redds are present; high-flow events during winter on juveniles, which can cause fish displacement and adverse water turbidity; and extremely low flows in summer. The stock “escapement” represents the fish remaining after accounting for ocean mortality and harvest. Ocean mortality has been linked with indices of ocean conditions, which are related to ocean biological productivity. Ocean survival also may have a density-dependent component such that lower survival is associated with higher numbers of smolts. The model allows the user to change certain model parameters and inputs, and choose among alternative predictors for certain modeled relations.

Suggested Citation

Woodward, Andrea, Kirby, Grant, and Morris, Scott, 2017, Skagit River coho salmon life history model—Users’ guide: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017–1125, 57 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Model Overview
  • Data Sources
  • Model Details
  • Model Validation
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes A–D

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Skagit River coho salmon life history model—Users’ guide
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2017-1125
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171125
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description vi, 57 p.
Country United States
State Washington
Other Geospatial Skagit River Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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