Effect of Low-Head Lock-and-Dam Structures on Migration and Spawning of American Shad and Striped Bass in the Cape Fear River, North Carolina

Anadromous fish populations within the Cape Fear River, North Carolina, have declined substantially since the late 1800s. Three low-head lock-and-dam (LD) structures on the river (LD-1–3) contributed to this decline by limiting access to upstream spawning habitat. We used egg sampling and sonic telemetry to examine the effects of the LD structures on migration and spawning activity of American shad Alosa sapidissima and striped bass Morone saxatilis. Egg distribution and stage of development suggested that most of the American shad spawning took place downstream from the lowermost structure, LD-1. The predicted mean density of stage-1 American shad eggs at a water temperature of 21◦C was 895 eggs/1,000 m3 (95% credible interval [CI] = 800–994) below LD-1; 147 eggs/1,000 m3 (95% CI = 103–197) below LD-2; and 32 eggs/1,000 m3 (95% CI = 17–49) below the uppermost structure, LD-3. The probability of capturing a stage-1 American shad egg was strongly dependent on water temperature and hour of egg collection. Transmitter detections for 20 sonic-tagged American shad and 20 striped bass in 2008 showed that for both species, the majority of fish moved upstream of LD-1; 35% of American shad and 25% of striped bass migrated upstream of LD-3. Based on passage rates at the three LD structures, American shad would be expected to be most abundant downstream of LD-1 and upstream of LD-3. For striped bass, the river section between LD-2 and LD-3 had the highest egg collections and highest predicted proportion of the run. In combination, these results demonstrate that the locking program provides some access to historical spawning habitat, although further improvements in fish passage could benefit both species.
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