Migratory salmon transit estuary habitats on their way out to the ocean but this phase of their life cycle is more poorly understood than other phases. The estuaries of large river systems in particular may support many populations and several species of salmon that originate from throughout the upstream river. The Skeena River of British Columbia, Canada, is a large river system with high salmon population- and species-level diversity. The estuary of the Skeena River is under pressure from industrial development, with two gas liquefaction terminals and a potash loading facility in various stages of environmental review processes, providing motivation for understanding the usage of the estuary by juvenile salmon. We conducted a juvenile salmonid sampling program throughout the Skeena River estuary in 2007 and 2013 to investigate the spatial and temporal distribution of different species and populations of salmon. We captured six species of juvenile anadromous salmonids throughout the estuary in both years, and found that areas proposed for development support some of the highest abundances of some species of salmon. Specifically, the highest abundances of sockeye (both years), Chinook in 2007, and coho salmon in 2013 were captured in areas proposed for development. For example, juvenile sockeye salmon were 2–8 times more abundant in the proposed development areas. Genetic stock assignment demonstrated that the Chinook salmon and most of the sockeye salmon that were captured originated from throughout the Skeena watershed, while some sockeye salmon came from the Nass, Stikine, Southeast Alaska, and coastal systems on the northern and central coasts of British Columbia. These fish support extensive commercial, recreational, and First Nations fisheries throughout the Skeena River and beyond. Our results demonstrate that estuary habitats integrate species and population diversity of salmon, and that if proposed development negatively affects the salmon populations that use the estuary, then numerous fisheries would also be negatively affected.
Carr-Harris C, Gottesfeld AS, Moore JW (2015) Juvenile Salmon Usage of the Skeena River Estuary. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0118988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118988
Juvenile Salmon Usage of the Skeena River Estuary
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