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Western Fisheries Science News

Debra Becker & Rachel Reagan, Editors

January 2018 | Issue 6.1

Research Pacific Herring in Alaska's Prince William Sound

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez—an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California— struck Bligh Reef and spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. Timing of the spill coincided with the annual immigration of adult Pacific herring into the region, which were staging to spawn in areas that became inundated with oil. Herring spawned as eggs during the spill largely failed to recruit into the adult population, with 1993 representing the smallest recruitment event on record. Further, the spawning biomass underwent a massive decline (from 120,000 tons in 1989 to 30,000 tons in 1993), resulting in severe curtailment of commercial fishing. Unfortunately, the herring stock never recovered after this catastrophic event, with fewer than 10,000 tons returning in 2017.

Pacific herring play an important role in marine ecosystems of the North Pacific Ocean, providing an essential source of food for larger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Herring are also economically important, commercially fished for food and bait. Maintaining a healthy herring population is critical for ensuring a balanced marine ecosystem. Owing to the failure of this stock to rebound after more than 25 years, and the ecological importance of Pacific herring, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council initiated an ambitious multidisciplinary effort to restore the injured herring resources. A team of scientists, including a representative from USGS (Western Fisheries Research Center's (WFRC's) Marrowstone Marine Field Station (MMFS), was charged with designing a 20-year Integrated Herring Restoration Plan (IHRP) to better understand chemical, physical, and biological processes that control herring abundance and recruitment. The Plan extends across scientific disciplines and institutional boundaries to include scientific partners from numerous federal departments and agencies, universities, and non-profit institutions throughout the United States and Canada.

In response to the goals and objectives identified in the IHRP, a Herring Research and Monitoring Program (HRMP) was funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. A Herring Disease Program is a major component of this HRMP and is led by researchers at the WFRC's MMFS. Their research has been investigating the role of disease in herring populations, including the effect of oil from the spill on the immune system of herring and their subsequent resistance to endemic pathogens. Because of the unique facility attributes at the MMFS, scientists are able to safely and responsibly perform experiments related to disease to better understand population threats and declines.

For example, recent research in the Herring Disease Program has been focused on forecasting disease potential in Pacific herring. Enumerating levels of natural mortality in marine fish populations remains difficult for fishery managers who need to provide annual forecasts of population size. Although some percentage of fish die from predation, disease, and starvation, the relative contributions of these natural mortality factors is somewhat unpredictable and can change dramatically from year-to-year. Scientists are developing a novel quantitative technique (plaque neutralization test - PNT) to address the annual contribution of disease mortality to Pacific herring populations. This technique is capable of proactively forecasting disease potential in a population and retroactively deducing whether a disease epizootic may have occurred. Preliminary results indicate that viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus antibody levels often differ in herring between Prince William Sound and Sitka Sound.

This unique ecosystem-level approach, led by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, has advanced society's scientific understanding of ecosystem-level impacts beyond anything that could have been accomplished by a single research entity. Taking this long-term approach to understanding the marine species, ecosystem, and its recovery will benefit us in the future, aiding scientists and governments around the world in responding to other oil spills and other marine disasters.

To learn more about this research, contact Dr. Paul Hershberger at or 360-385-1007 x225.

New Publications

New Publication Describes Isolation and Characterization of a Virus in Salmon: Salmon are paramount to the economy, ecology, and history of the Pacific Northwest. Viruses constitute one of the major threats to salmon health and well-being, with more than twenty known virus species that infect salmon. In a new publication of Virology Journal, USGS scientists at the WFRC collaborate with researchers at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife to describe the isolation, genome sequencing, and characterization of a novel member of the Aquareovirus B species from spawning fall Chinook salmon. Metagenomic next-generation sequencing was used to recover the full genome of this virus since traditional PCR methodologies failed to identify it. For more information, contact Bill Batts,, Seattle, WA or Jim Winton,, Seattle, WA.

Makhsous, N., N.L. Jensen, K.H. Haman, W.N. Batts, K.R. Jerome, J.R. Winton, and A.L. Greninger. 2017. Isolation and characterization of the fall Chinook aquareovirus. Virol. J. 14: 170. DOI: 10.1186/s12985-017-0839-9.

New Publication Explores Virus in Northern Pike Fry: A collaborative study involving scientists at the USGS WFRC, along with researchers at Cornell University and the State University of New York, scientists obtained complete genomic sequences of four viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) isolates and studied their virulence in northern pike fry. VHSV is a highly lethal virus of a wide range of host fish. The host origin of the four study viruses varied from round goby, muskellunge, and two recent isolations from gizzard shad, all from the Great Lakes Basin. The cumulative percent mortality was approximately 50% in pike fry and 57% of the survivors still had virus detected in their tissues after 21 days. For more information, contact Bill Batts,, Seattle, WA or Gael Kurath,, Seattle, WA.

Getchell, R.G., E.R. Cornwell, S. Bogdanowicz, J. Andrés, W.N. Batts, G. Kurath, R. Breyta, J.G. Choi, J.M. Farrell, and P.R. Bowser. 2017. Complete sequences of 4 viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus IVb isolates and their virulence in northern pike fry. Dis. Aquat. Org. 126(3): 211-227. DOI: 10.3354/dao03171.

New Publication Describes Resource Exploitation by Juvenile Chinook Salmon in a Restored Estuarine Habitat: Coastal estuaries are ecologically valuable ecosystems and at the same time among the most threatened habitats. They are important to some anadromous salmon species, especially juvenile Chinook salmon, which spend significant portions of their development in estuaries as they migrate to sea. Estuarine residency is positively associated with successful Chinook growth and development. In light of estuarine restoration efforts, USGS scientists collaborated with scientists from the Nisqually Indian Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether individual Chinook profited from the addition of 364 ha of tidal delta habitat within the Nisqually River estuary. The integration of 3 years of post-restoration monitoring data on juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), including habitat availability, invertebrate prey biomass, and physiological condition was evaluated. The results demonstrated how the realized function of restored estuarine habitat is functionally dependent. High prey productivity in areas with greater connectivity may support healthy juvenile salmon that are more likely to reach the critical size class for offshore survival. For more information, contact Kim Larsen,, Seattle, WA.

Davis, M.J., C.S. Ellings, I. Woo, S. Hodgson, K. Larsen, and G. Nakai. Early View. Gauging resource exploitation by juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in restoring estuarine habitat. Restor. Ecol. DOI: 10.1111/rec.12643.

New Publication Relates River Discharge and Water Temperature to White Sturgeon Recruitment: Many sturgeon species are severely threatened from habitat alterations, poor water quality, poaching, and overfishing. Of these threats, the construction and operation of dams has been suggested as the greatest risk to the persistence and productivity of sturgeon populations worldwide. Like other sturgeon species, anthropogenic stressors have negatively affected White Sturgeon productivity in the Columbia River Basin. Assessing the effects of stressors on depressed sturgeon populations poses unique challenges. In a new publication in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology, scientists from USGS Western Fisheries Research Center and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife determine if river discharge and water temperature during various early life stages affect age-0 White Sturgeon recruitment in the Columbia River. The authors provide an example of how over-dispersed catch data can be used to better understand the effect of regulated rivers on the productivity of depressed sturgeon populations. For more information, contact Tim Counihan,, Cook, WA

Counihan, T.D. and C.G. Chapman. Early View. Relating river discharge and water temperature to the recruitment of age-0 White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1836) in the Columbia River using over-dispersed catch data. J. Appl. Ichthyol. 2018;00:1-11. DOI: 10.1111/jai.13570.

New Publication Examines Coho Salmon Growth Rates: In Pacific salmon, growth rates of juvenile fish are an important factor underlying productivity. Consequently, the estimation of growth rates is often an objective of ecological studies of salmonid populations. Growth rate is a consequence of numerous factors, including body mass, temperature, food availability, seasonality, and behavior. While it is logistically difficult to design ecological studies that jointly account for each of these factors, laboratory-based growth models provide a potential tool for evaluating growth in wild populations, as they can control for two primary governing factors: body mass and temperature. In a recent article published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, scientists from USGS (California Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Western Fisheries Research Center), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Humboldt State University conduct a meta-analysis of laboratory- and hatchery-based growth data to estimate broadly applicable parameters of mass- and temperature-dependent growth of juvenile coho salmon. For more information, contact Russell Perry,, Cook, WA

Manhard, C.V., N.A. Som, R.W. Perry, and J.M. Plumb. A laboratory-calibrated model of coho salmon growth with utility for ecological analyses. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. (Online First). DOI:

New Publication Explores Fish Monitoring Programs in Large Rivers: Navigable or non-wadeable rivers (referred to as large rivers) provide valuable resources to a range of socio-economic sectors including fisheries, electricity, municipal drinking water, and water for agricultural and industrial businesses. Understanding trends in the diverse resources provided by large rivers will help balance tradeoffs among stakeholders and inform strategies to mitigate the effects of landscape scale stressors such as climate change and invasive species. In a recently published article in PLoS ONE, scientists from USGS (Western Fisheries Research Center, Oregon Water Science Center, Southwest Biological Science Center, Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center, Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Core Science Systems, and Pacific Northwest Aquatic Monitoring Partnership), Illinois National History Survey, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife use a common analytical framework to analyze data from five different fish monitoring programs to better understand the nature of spatial and temporal trends in large river fish assemblages. The authors evaluated data from programs that monitor fishes in the Colorado, Columbia, Illinois, Mississippi, and Tallapoosa rivers. Results indicate that fish assemblages exhibited significant spatial and temporal trends in all five of the rivers. Having a basic understanding of the nature and extent of trends in fish assemblages is a necessary first step towards understanding factors affecting biodiversity and fisheries in large rivers. For more information, contact Tim Counihan,, Cook, WA

Counihan,T.D., I.R. Waite, A.F. Casper, D.L. Ward, J.S. Sauer, E.R. Irwin, C.G. Chapman, B.S. Ickes, C.P. Paukert, J.J. Kosovich, and J.M. Bayer. 2018. Can data from disparate long-term fish monitoring programs be used to increase our understanding of regional and continental trends in large river assemblages? PLoS ONE 13(1): e0191472. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191472.


USGS Scientist Presents Monthly Lecture at Science on Tap: On January 29, 2017, USGS WFRC scientist Carl Ostberg presented a talk "Fishing for environmental DNA (eDNA): a new frontier for detecting and monitoring aquatic species" at the public seminar series Science on Tap, Ravenna Third Place Bookstore. The presentation provided a summary of eDNA as tool for use in resource management and provided examples of how eDNA based methods are used for monitoring species. For more information, contact Carl Ostberg,, Seattle, WA.

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