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Evaluating Relationships between Wild Skeena River Sockeye Salmon Productivity and the Abundance of Spawning Channel Enhanced Sockeye Smolts

13 May 2014, at 1:00am

The enhancement of salmon populations has long been used to increase the abundance of salmon returning to spawn and/or to be captured in fisheries.

However, in some instances enhancement can have adverse impacts on adjacent non-enhanced populations. In Canada's Skeena watershed, smolt-to-adult survival of Babine Lake sockeye from 1962–2002 was inversely related to the abundance of sockeye smolts leaving Babine Lake.

This relationship has led to the concern that Babine Lake smolt production, which is primarily enhanced by spawning channels, may depress wild Skeena (Babine and non-Babine) sockeye populations as a result of increased competition between wild and enhanced sockeye smolts as they leave their natal lakes and co-migrate to sea.

To test this hypothesis Michael H. H. Price and Brendan M. Connors, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, Canada, used data on Skeena sockeye populations and oceanographic conditions to statistically examine the relationship between Skeena sockeye productivity (adult salmon produced per spawner) and an index of Babine Lake enhanced smolt abundance while accounting for the potential influence of early marine conditions. While we had relatively high power to detect large effects, we did not find support for the hypothesis that the productivity of wild Skeena sockeye is inversely related to the abundance of enhanced sockeye smolts leaving Babine Lake in a given year.

Importantly, life-time productivity of Skeena sockeye is only partially explained by marine survival, and likely is an unreliable measure of the influence of smolt abundance. Limitations to our analyses, which include: (1) the reliance upon adult salmon produced per spawner (rather than per smolt) as an index of marine survival, and (2) incomplete age structure for most of the populations considered, highlight uncertainties that should be addressed if understanding relationships between wild and enhanced sockeye is a priority in the Skeena.

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