Smolt production and overwinter mortality of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) stocked as fry
Research was completed to determine factors affecting smolt production and overwinter mortality of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) stocked as fry in Vermont tributaries of the Connecticut River. Specific focuses included: (1) timing of smolt migration relative to environmental and physiological factors; (2) effect of ice formation on habitats selected and winter distribution of parr; (3) effect of maturation on parr growth and smolt recruitment; and (4) smolt production dynamics and recruitment modeling. Smolt migration timing and recruitment was determined using net weirs and counting fences and mark-recapture and winter habitat studies were completed by night snorkeling. Tributaries differed in the timing of smolt migration with the tributary warming earliest in the spring generally experiencing earlier smolt migration. Initiation and cessation of smolt migratory activity appeared to be linked to smolt physiological development. Peaks in river discharge increased smolt migratory activity after water temperature thresholds were surpassed, yet only while smolts maintained elevated gill Na$\sp+,$ K$\sp+$-ATPase activity. Ice formation caused significant changes in the physical stream environment, including a reduction in the abundance of habitats often selected by parr. Changes in the distribution of parr over the winter generally corresponded to changes in the distribution of high velocity habitats they rarely selected and low velocity habitats they often selected. Mature parr were abundant across and within tributaries. Percent mature in October/November was positively correlated with mean size the preceding June. Studies on individually marked parr showed that mature parr exhibited poorer June to October growth than immature parr resulting in large differences in fall size. Mature parr were recruited to smolt at a reduced frequency relative to immature parr and modeling analysis indicated that this difference resulted primarily from a one-third probability of smolting for mature parr rather than differences in fall to spring survival. Simulation modeling revealed that losses in potential smolt production attributable to parr maturation may be as high as 35% when maturation percentages reach the maximum of 45% observed in this study. It is concluded that smolt physiology, winter habitat, and parr maturation are primary factors affecting smolt production and overwinter mortality of Atlantic salmon stocked as fry.
0792: Fish production
0793: Freshwater ecology