Contribution of subyearling estuarine migrant coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) to spawning populations on the southern Oregon coast Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/mk61rm14d

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  • The typical coho salmon life history has been characterized by juvenile fish that spend their entire first year in freshwater habitats before migrating into estuaries as smolts. However, reports of early migrating coho fry (age 0), including migration downstream to estuarine habitats, date back to the 1960s. Until a few years ago, these individuals were considered to be displaced surplus fish with low chances of survival. Recent studies have suggested that subyearling estuarine migrating coho salmon could be an alternative life history in coastal populations, but their return as jacks or mature adults needed to be documented for this life history to be considered a viable strategy. The goal of our study was to track the return of spawning coho salmon that had been individually tagged in either estuarine or riverine nursery habitats, and determine return percentages for each life history strategy as well as independently verify the presence of subyearling estuarine migrating coho salmon through otolith analysis on spawning populations. We used Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tags to identify individual fish as they passed through a series of antennas deployed in two coastal lowland streams on the southern Oregon coast. Percentage return of estuary tagged parr (fish ≥ 60 mm tagged in spring and summer of their first year) was variable between years and streams. For the 2010 return year, subyearling estuarine migrants was 2.5 times higher than stream residents in Palouse Creek. Fork length at estuary entrance was reconstructed for one return year of spawning fish based on otolith Sr:Ca and Br:Ca. Four main life history strategies were identified based on their fork length at time of estuary/ocean entrance: early migrating fry (< 60 mm fork length), early migrating parr (60 - 70 mm fork length), early migrating parr that returned to freshwater before migrating as yearlings ("nomads"), and yearling migrating smolts (> 70 mm fork length). Overall, 30% (Larson Creek) to 42% (Palouse Creek) of the 2009 spawning run was made up of fish that displayed evidence of estuarine residence during their first year. This study confirms that subyearling estuarine migrating coho salmon survive to reproductive age and contribute to subsequent generations. The survival of this life history type likely varies between years with changing ocean and stream conditions. It is hypothesized that their life history serves as a "bet hedging" strategy that supports coastal populations in years of poor stream conditions. In the face of rising sea levels, this life history may represent a key to the future viability of coho salmon stocks in coastal watersheds.
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