Henderson, M.J., Loomis, C.M., Michel, C.J., Smith, J.M., Iglesias, I.S., Lehmen, B.M., Demetras, N.J., Huff, D.D.

Publication Date

11 April 2023

Publication Name

North American Journal of Fisheries Management

Tuesday September 12, 2023

The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (hereafter, “the Delta”) is one of the estuaries with the most invasive species in the world, and nonnative predators may be a major factor in the observed decline of Central Valley Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha over recent decades. In order for managers to take actions that might reduce predation-related mortality for these ecologically, culturally, and economically valuable fish, it is important to understand the factors influencing the distribution and abundance of piscivores in the Delta. In this study, we used a dual-frequency identification sonar (i.e., DIDSON) to conduct mobile surveys to quantify the abundances of piscivores in the Delta. We then used these data to identify the habitat features that are correlated with the abundance of piscivores. Prior to conducting the surveys, we used DIDSON data from captured fish to develop an algorithm to distinguish piscivores from nonpiscivores with high confidence (98% accuracy). A generalized linear mixed-effects model fit to these survey data indicated that predator abundances were most associated with areas of increased submerged aquatic vegetation patches, and channels that are straighter, with increased bathymetric complexity. When applied to the entire survey area, this model was successfully able to predict known areas of high predator densities. These results indicate that one approach to reduce predator densities in key locations throughout the Delta, and improve juvenile salmonid outmigration survival, is to reduce the extent of invasive submerged aquatic vegetation. Because experimental predator removals have been largely ineffective in the Delta, efforts to manipulate habitat to discourage nonnative predator recruitment and favor native species recruitment may provide a more effective solution to improve salmonid survival rates.

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