Development of underwater recorders to quantify predation of juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in a river environment


Demetras, Nicholas J., David D. Huff, Cyril J. Michel, Joseph M. Smith, George R. Cutter, Sean A. Hayes, and Steven T. Lindley
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Recent acoustic tagging of juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the southern portion of California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta has revealed extremely low survival rates (<1%), possibly due to predation by piscivorous fishes. We evaluated predation as a cause of low survival by designing and testing freely floating GPSenabled predation-event recorders (PERs) baited with juvenile Chinook salmon. We estimated predation rates and identified predation locations within a 1-kilometer reach of the Lower San Joaquin River. We modeled the relationship between time to predation and environmental variables with a Cox proportional hazards analysis that accounts for censored data. Our results indicated that an increase of 1 m/s in water velocity elevated the minute-by-minute hazard of predation by a factor of 9.6. Similarly, each increase in median depth decreased the predation hazard by a factor of 0.5. The mean relative predation rate in the study area was 15.3% over 9 sampling events between March and May 2014. Waterproof video cameras attached to a subset (48 of 216) of PERs successfully identified predator species 25% of the time. Our GPS-enabled PERs proved to be an inexpensive and reliable tool, which quantified predation, identified predation locations, and provided complementary information for acoustic telemetry and predator diet studies.