San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
Migration Patterns of Juvenile Winter-run-sized Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) through the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
- Author(s): del Rosario, Rosalie B.
- Redler, Yvette J.
- Newman, Ken
- Brandes, Patricia L.
- Sommer, Ted
- Reece, Kevin
- Vincik, Robert
- et al.
The decline of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) remains one of the major water management issues in the Sacramento River. Few field studies have been published on winter-run, leaving gaps in our knowledge about their life history. This is especially true in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, which provides essential rearing and migratory habitats for winter-run, and serves as the center of water operations for California. Using long-term monitoring data that identified winter-run-sized fish (“winter-run”) using length-at-date criteria, we examined patterns of juvenile migration in terms of geographic distribution, timing, numbers, and residence times. We analyzed the role of flow, turbidity, temperature, and adult escapement on the downstream movement (“migration”) of winter-run. Winter-run passed Knights Landing (rkm 144 or 51 rkm upstream of the Delta) between October and April, with substantial variation in peak time of entry that was strongly associated with the first high flows of the migration season. Specifically, the first day of flows of at least 400 m3 s-1 at Wilkins Slough (rkm 190) coincided with the first day that at least 5% of the annual total catch was observed at Knights Landing. While the period during which winter-run left the Delta spanned several months based on Chipps Island (rkm 29) catch data, the median catch typically occurred over a narrow window in March. Differences in timing of cumulative catch at Knights Landing and Chipps Island indicate that apparent residence time in the Delta ranges from 41 to 117 days, with longer apparent residence times for juveniles arriving earlier at Knights Landing. We discuss the potential importance of the Yolo Bypass floodplain as an alternative rearing and migratory corridor, contingent on the timing, duration, and magnitude of floodplain inundation. These results carry implications for habitat restoration and management of Sacramento River flows.