Tidal wetland channels provide rearing habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon as they emigrate from freshwater habitat and prepare to enter the ocean. Widespread diking and drainage of estuarine marshes for agricultural and urban development may have contributed to a decline in salmon abundance in the Pacific Northwest, prompting efforts to restore estuarine salmon habitat in the region. I investigated the growth and residence patterns of age-0 Chinook salmon in two blind tidal channels in the Salmon River estuary, Oregon. One channel drained a natural high salt marsh in “reference” condition, and the other channel was in an adjacent salt marsh, restored to tidal inundation in 1996 after being diked and controlled by a tide gate for thirty five years. Recapture of individually marked fish indicated salmon growth rates were similar in the two channels, though growth rates varied more seasonally in the restored site. Average minimum residence times of individual fish were approximately ten days in each channel, and individual salmon were observed up to 79 and 117 days after initial marking in the reference and restored channels, respectively. To characterize movement of age-0 salmon within tidal channels, I tested the feasibility of stationary Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) detection within a small (approximately 8m wide) tidal channel within the natural marsh system. I found that a stationary PIT detector was an effective tool for monitoring tagged fish movement in a brackish water channel network. Salmon movements in the channel were asymmetrical about high slack tide, with peak movement frequency occurring late during both flood and ebb tide periods. Most movements were in the direction of tidal currents, but 20% of individuals entered the channel against the ebbing tide. Individuals occupied the intertidal channel for a median 4.9 hours and as long as 8.9 hours per tidal cycle, and few were detected moving when water depth was <0.4m. Some individuals used the channel on multiple successive tidal cycles, and others entered intermittently over periods  up to 109 days. This research used individualbased fish marking methods to quantify juvenile Chinook salmon behavior and performance within tidal marsh channels, assessing functional equivalence of natural and restored sites and demonstrating the value of such habitats for conservation and restoration of salmon populations.

David K. Hering
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164 pp.
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8 1/2 x 11, online
Fisheries Science, Oregon State University
Master of Science