Influence of early life growth and precipitation zone on survival to adulthood in wild Steelhead Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Skagit River basin, WA
Thompson, Jamie Nicholas
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Wild Steelhead Trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, in the Puget Sound are currently in decline, and very little is known about the early life history of these threatened fish. This study evaluated consequences of early life growth in terms of survival to smolt or adult stages. The objectives of this study were to determine whether significant size-selective mortality (SSM) in Steelhead could be detected between freshwater stages and returning adults; and if so, how the magnitude of size selectivity varied among reaches categorized by three different precipitation zones (snow, mixed rain-snow, or rain). Wild Steelhead in the Skagit River basin were sampled as juveniles, smolts, and adults, and scales were measured to compare back-calculated freshwater growth rates and size distributions of rearing juveniles with individuals that survived from an earlier life stage to the smolt and adult stages. Linear regression of scale radius (SR) and fork length indicated that SR was a reasonable predictor of fork length during freshwater residency. Back-calculated size-at-annulus estimates indicated that fish sampled as adults grew significantly faster to age 1, 2, and 3 annuli compared to fish sampled as juveniles, and faster to the age 2 and 3 annuli compared to fish sampled as smolts. Within precipitation zones, fish sampled as juveniles were consistently smaller at each freshwater annulus compared to those same freshwater annuli on fish sampled as adults. An increased disparity in size-at-annuli 2 and 3 between fish sampled as juveniles, smolts, and adults suggests that fast growth during the period at which Steelhead smoltify is vitally important to survival to adulthood. These findings provide evidence that survival among life stages is an important dynamic in wild Steelhead, and can be attributed, in part, to size attained at earlier life stages. Efforts for recovery of threatened Puget Sound Steelhead could benefit by considering growth- and size-selective mortality in freshwater environments, and identifying factors that limit early life growth at a finer scale of habitat, for example among sub-basins or precipitation zones.
- Fisheries