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The influence of temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen on juvenile salmon distributions in a nearshore estuarine environment Mesa, Kathryn A.


This study examines the effects of a low oxygen environment, in concert with fluctuating temperature and salinity conditions, on the nearshore depth distributions (0-1 m) and flood tide movements of juvenile chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and chum (O. keta) salmon. Comparisons are made between an unpolluted and a sewage polluted estuarine intertidal flat in the Fraser River estuary, British Columbia, the polluted area being characterized by the regular occurrence of low dissolved oxygen levels. Results are based on 380 beach seine samples taken between April and June of 1984. In general, chum and chinook salmon of increasing length were captured in increasing depths, though this pattern was modified by seasonal changes in water temperature. Low dissolved oxygen conditions in deeper waters may have been responsible for the presence of larger, and often sluggishly swimming fish in higher oxygenated surface water layers or in shallow waters near the shore. In both areas, the risk of aerial predation was high. On a flood tide, the likelihood of capturing a chinook salmon was reduced as temperatures increased and oxygen levels decreased. A combination of avoidance behaviour and a regularity in the movement patterns of chinook onto the study area in the later stages of the flood tide may account for their rare occurrence in low oxygen concentrations (<6 mg/1) and high temperatures (>20 °C). Fish mortalities were most likely to occur on the ebb tide when fish were forced into waters of low oxygen content by the drainage patterns characteristic of the polluted study area. Though wide ranges in salinity were recorded on both tidal flats, this factor was not strongly correlated to Chinook distributions. However, significantly higher salinity levels in the unpolluted area may account for the greater numbers of chum salmon captured there. An understanding of the influence of estuarine water quality conditions on the distribution of juvenile salmonids may assist in the identification of significant sources of mortality in their early marine life. This knowledge is particularly important in the evaluation of water quality changes as caused by human activity.

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