Propagated Fish in Resource Management

Use of Propagated Shortnose Sturgeon as Surrogates for Wild Fish

Mark R. Collins, Theodore I. J. Smith, Vincent A. Mudrak, Robert Bakal, and Kent Ware


Abstract.—For many imperiled species, biological information necessary for effective management of wild populations is often lacking, and acquisition of experimental specimens is problematic due to their scarcity or special status. To address these issues, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established a partnership to develop propagation techniques for the endangered shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum. Hatchery-produced fish and their offspring have served as valuable surrogates for wild sturgeon in a variety of studies, most of which focused on production of information directly applicable to field studies of wild fish. These studies included (1) salinity and dissolved oxygen bioassays to identify critical water quality parameters that might typify habitats of wild juveniles, (2) tag retention evaluations to identify optimal tag types for use in mark–recapture studies, (3) transmitter attachment/implantation assessments to establish telemetry protocols that minimize impacts and provide long-term retention, (4) surgical procedures trials to identify appropriate suture materials and techniques, (5) assessments of the effects of removing a pectoral fin ray for aging studies, (6) underwater blasting/demolition assessments to determine the effects of underwater demolition and dredging projects on sturgeon, and (7) development of surgical sterilization procedures to minimize the likelihood of genetic contamination when using propagated sturgeon to locate and evaluate habitats used by wild fish. Thus, the use of propagated sturgeon has greatly improved field study methodologies and enhanced management efforts for wild shortnose sturgeon.