Author(s): Maureen P. Small, A.E. Pichahchy, J.F. Von Bargen & S.F. Young
coho salmon, hatchery impacts, wild populations
Coho salmon spawning in the North Fork of the Nooksack River were compared to hatchery fish released in the Nooksack River and wild-origin fish returning to the lower mainstem, the South Fork and the Samish River to assess whether the North Fork coho salmon were a native population.
ABSTRACT: For over a century, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has implemented hatchery programs as a means to boost salmon abundance. Concerns have developed that native populations may be replaced by hatchery strains, decreasing the genetic diversity required to respond to environmental changes. We report a comparison of microsatellite DNA variation in wild-spawning and hatchery-strain coho salmon from the Nooksack and Samish rivers in northern Puget Sound. Significant heterogeneity in genotype frequencies was detected between wild-spawning coho salmon from the upper North Fork (NF) Nooksack River and hatchery-strain coho salmon from the Nooksack River (descendants of primarily Nooksack River broodstock). Little difference in genotype frequencies was detected between wild-spawning coho salmon from the Samish River and hatchery-strain coho salmon from the Nooksack River. The 13- locus suite provided high resolution: in assignment tests over 85% of wild-spawning coho salmon from the upper NF Nooksack River were assigned to source. Wild-spawning coho salmon collected below hatcheries in the Nooksack River and 50% of wild-spawning Samish River coho salmon were assigned to hatchery collections. The genetic divergence of wild-spawning coho salmon in the upper NF Nooksack River is remarkable given the extensive stocking history and proximity of a hatchery. We suggest that these upper river fish are native coho salmon and that wild spawners in the lower Nooksack and Samish River are descendants of hatchery productions. We attribute divergence to earlier run timing in upper NF Nooksack River wild spawners, availability of extensive spawning and rearing habitat upstream of a hatchery in the upper NF Nooksack River, and a longer stocking history in the Samish River.