Main content area

Effect of dam removal on habitat use by spawning Atlantic salmon

Hill, Nicole L., Trueman, Jessamine R., Prévost, Ashlee D., Fraser, Dylan J., Ardren, William R., Grant, James W.A.
Journal of Great Lakes research 2019 v.45 no.2 pp. 394-399
Salmo salar, dams (hydrology), fish communities, habitat preferences, habitats, lakes, migratory behavior, rivers, spawning, surveys, variance
By impeding migration and degrading habitat downstream, dam construction has caused population declines in many migratory fish populations. As part of the landlocked Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) restoration program in Lake Champlain, the Willsboro Dam was removed from the Boquet River, NY in 2015 providing an opportunity to study the effects of dam removal on spawning habitat quality and availability. Spawning habitat surveys were conducted downstream of the dam site in 2014, 2016 and 2017, and in historical spawning grounds upstream in 2016 and 2017. The habitat used was characterized by measuring depth, water velocity, and substrate size at each redd. Mean habitat use did not differ between upstream and downstream sites for any variables in 2016 and only differed for depth in 2017. However, the variance in depth and substrate used for spawning were lower at the upstream site in 2016, likely due to an abundance of habitat. In the downstream site, the mean and variance in depth at redds decreased after dam removal as did the variance in substrate size, increasing the habitat suitability of redds. When compared to literature data, habitat used upstream of the former dam was of medium quality in both 2016 and 2017, and improved downstream from low to medium quality in both column velocity and substrate size after dam removal. This study illustrates that positive shifts in the quality of habitat used can occur rapidly following dam removal by allowing access to suitable spawning habitat upstream and improving habitat downstream.