Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: California
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Chen, E.K. and Henderson, M.J. 2021. Reduced recruitment of Chinook salmon in a leveed bar-built estuary. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 78: 894-904.


Estuaries are commonly touted as nurseries for salmonids, providing numerous advantages for smolts prior to ocean entry. In bar-built estuaries, sandbars form at the mouth of rivers during periods of low stream flow, closing access to the ocean and disrupting outmigration. We evaluated how summer residency in a leveed bar-built estuary affects the growth, survival, and recruitment of a Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) population. We performed a mark-recapture study on outmigrants to determine juvenile estuary abundance, growth, and survival. We used returning adult scales and otoliths to determine the relative abundance of summer estuary residence in spawning adults. Juveniles in the estuary grew less after mouth closure, and ultimately summer estuary residents had lower smolt-to-adult survival and contributed disproportionately less to the spawning population than fish rearing in the ocean. Mouth closure may lower food availability and deteriorate estuary conditions by reducing marine prey influx and estuary circulation. This research demonstrates the complexity of estuary dynamics and function as salmonid nurseries, particularly when considering the extensive modification of estuaries.