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Behaviour and passage success of upriver-migrating lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens in a vertical slot fishway on the Richelieu River, Quebec, Canada

J. D. Thiem1,*, T. R. Binder1, J. W. Dawson2, P. Dumont3, D. Hatin3, C. Katopodis4,
D. Z. Zhu5, S. J. Cooke1,6
1Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, and 2Insect Flight Group, Department of Biology,
Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada
3Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, 201 Place Charles Le Moyne, 4e étage, bureau 4.05, Longueuil, Québec
J4K 2T5, Canada
4Katopodis Ecohydraulics Ltd., 122 Valence Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 3W7, Canada
5Water Resources Engineering, University of Alberta, 3-032 Markin/CNRL Natural Resources, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2W2, Canada
6Institute of Environmental Science, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada

ABSTRACT: Spawning migrations of sturgeon have been affected by the construction of dams, which create barriers to migration and have contributed to the imperilment of sturgeon. Although devices have been installed to facilitate the upstream passage of fish at barriers, they have been generally unsuccessful and not designed for sturgeon. We examined fine-scale movements of adult lake sturgeon Acipenser fulvescens during passage through a vertical slot fishway located on the Richelieu River in Quebec, Canada, to determine passage success, passage duration and inter-individual differences in fishway use. Migratory lake sturgeon (n = 107, range 939 to 1625 mm total length [TL]) were captured immediately downstream of the fishway, tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and released into the fishway entrance basin over a period of 2 wk (water temperature 11–20°C). An array of 16 PIT antennas acted as gates to enable quantification of movements within the fishway. Volitional entry into the fishway occurred for most individuals (82.2%), 32 individuals successfully ascended the entire fishway, and overall passage efficiency was 36.4%.

Sturgeon exhibited an ability to traverse the fishway quickly (minimum duration of 1.2 h upon entry into the fishway); however, the duration of successful passage events was variable (6.2–75.4 h following release). Neither passage duration nor maximum distance of ascent was correlated with TL
or water temperature. Passage behaviour was variable, in some cases resulting in cumulative upstream movements 3 times in excess of fishway length. Passage durations through the 2 turning basins were disproportionately longer compared with other basins; however, the activity of individuals within these and other locations remains unknown and represents an important knowledge gap. Collectively, data from this study contribute to understanding how fishways can be used to facilitate the upstream passage of imperilled sturgeon at dams.

KEY WORDS: Acipenseridae · Sturgeon · Fishway · Fish passage · Migration · PIT

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