Historical Changes in Large River Fish Assemblages of the Americas

Historical and Current Perspectives on Fish Assemblages of the Snake River, Idaho and Wyoming

Terry R. Maret and Christopher A. Mebane

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569728.ch4

Abstract.—The Snake River is the tenth longest river in the United States, extending 1,667 km from its origin in Yellowstone National Park in western Wyoming to its union with the Columbia River at Pasco, Washington. Historically, the main-stem Snake River upstream from the Hells Canyon Complex supported at least 26 native fish species, including anadromous stocks of Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, steelhead O. mykiss, Pacific lamprey Lampetra tridentata, and white sturgeon Acipenser transmontanus. Of these anadromous species, only the white sturgeon remains in the Snake River between the Hells Canyon Complex and Shoshone Falls. Today, much of the Snake River has been transformed into a river with numerous impoundments and flow diversions, increased pollutant loads, and elevated water temperatures. Current (1993–2002) fish assemblage collections from 15 sites along the Snake River and Henrys Fork contained 35 fish species, including 16 alien species. Many of these alien species such as catfish (Ictaluridae), carp (Cyprinidae), and sunfish (Centrarchidae) are adapted for warmwater impounded habitats. Currently, the Snake River supports 19 native species. An index of biotic integrity (IBI), developed to evaluate large rivers in the Northwest, was used to evaluate recent (1993– 2002) fish collections from the Snake River and Henrys Fork in southern Idaho and western Wyoming. Index of biotic integrity site scores and component metrics revealed a decline in biotic integrity from upstream to downstream in both the Snake River and Henrys Fork. Two distinct groups of sites were evident that correspond to a range of IBI scores—an upper Snake River and Henrys Fork group with relatively high biotic integrity (mean IBI scores of 46–84) and a lower Snake River group with low biotic integrity (mean IBI scores of 10–29). Sites located in the lower Snake River exhibited fish assemblages that reflect poor-quality habitat where coldwater and sensitive species are rare or absent, and where tolerant, less desirable species predominate. Increases in percentages of agricultural land, total number of diversions, and number of constructed channels were strongly associated with these decreasing IBI scores.