San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
Evaluation of Long-Term Mark-Recapture Data for Estimating Abundance of Juvenile Fall-Run Chinook Salmon on the Stanislaus River from 1996 to 2017
- Author(s): Pilger, Tyler J.
- Peterson, Matthew L.
- Lee, Dana
- Fuller, Andrea
- Demko, Doug
- et al.
Conservation and management of culturally and economically important species rely on monitoring programs to provide accurate and robust estimates of population size. Rotary screw traps (RSTs) are often used to monitor populations of anadromous fish, including fall-run Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in California’s Central Valley. Abundance estimates from RST data depend on estimating a trap's efficiency via mark-recapture releases. Because efficiency estimates are highly variable and influenced by many factors, abundance estimates can be highly uncertain. An additional complication is the multiple accepted methods for how to apply a limited number of trap efficiency estimates, each from discrete time-periods, to a population’s downstream migration, which can span months. Yet, few studies have evaluated these different methods, particularly with long-term monitoring programs. We used 21 years of mark-recapture data and RST catch of juvenile fall-run Chinook Salmon on the Stanislaus River, California, to investigate factors associated with trap efficiency variability across years and mark-recapture releases. We compared annual abundance estimates across five methods that differed in treatment of trap efficiency (stratified versus modeled) and statistical approach (frequentist versus Bayesian) to assess the variability of estimates across methods, and to evaluate whether method affected trends in estimated abundance. Consistent with short-term studies, we observed negative associations between estimated trap efficiency and river discharge as well as fish size. Abundance estimates were robust across all methods, frequently having overlapping confidence intervals. Abundance trends, for the number of increases and decreases from year to year, did not differ across methods. Estimated juvenile abundances were significantly related to adult escapement counts, and the relationship did not depend on estimation method. Understanding the sources of uncertainty related to abundance estimates is necessary to ensure that high-quality estimates are used in life cycle and stock-recruitment modeling.