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Multinomial N-Mixture Models Improve the Applicability of Electrofishing for Developing Population Estimates of Stream-Dwelling Smallmouth Bass

Mollenhauer, Robert, Brewer, Shannon K.
North American Journal of Fisheries Management 2017 v.37 no.1 pp. 211-224
Micropterus dolomieu, confidence interval, data collection, ecoregions, environmental factors, fish, fish communities, fisheries, models, monitoring, streams, surveys, water quality
Failure to account for variable detection across survey conditions constrains progressive stream ecology and can lead to erroneous stream fish management and conservation decisions. In addition to variable detection’s confounding long-term stream fish population trends, reliable abundance estimates across a wide range of survey conditions are fundamental to establishing species–environment relationships. Despite major advancements in accounting for variable detection when surveying animal populations, these approaches remain largely ignored by stream fish scientists, and CPUE remains the most common metric used by researchers and managers. One notable advancement for addressing the challenges of variable detection is the multinomial N -mixture model. Multinomial N -mixture models use a flexible hierarchical framework to model the detection process across sites as a function of covariates; they also accommodate common fisheries survey methods, such as removal and capture–recapture. Effective monitoring of stream-dwelling Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu populations has long been challenging; therefore, our objective was to examine the use of multinomial N -mixture models to improve the applicability of electrofishing for estimating absolute abundance. We sampled Smallmouth Bass populations by using tow-barge electrofishing across a range of environmental conditions in streams of the Ozark Highlands ecoregion. Using an information-theoretic approach, we identified effort, water clarity, wetted channel width, and water depth as covariates that were related to variable Smallmouth Bass electrofishing detection. Smallmouth Bass abundance estimates derived from our top model consistently agreed with baseline estimates obtained via snorkel surveys. Additionally, confidence intervals from the multinomial N -mixture models were consistently more precise than those of unbiased Petersen capture–recapture estimates due to the dependency among data sets in the hierarchical framework. We demonstrate the application of this contemporary population estimation method to address a longstanding stream fish management issue. We also detail the advantages and trade-offs of hierarchical population estimation methods relative to CPUE and estimation methods that model each site separately. Received June 13, 2016; accepted October 14, 2016Published online January 12, 2017