Estimating Abundance of Adult Striped Bass in Reservoirs Using Mobile Hydroacoustics
Joseph E. Hightower, J. Christopher Taylor, and Donald J. Degan
Abstract.— Hydroacoustic surveys have proven valuable for estimating reservoir forage fish abundance but are more challenging for adult predators such as striped bass Morone saxatilis. Difficulties in assessing striped bass in reservoirs include their low density and the inability to distinguish species with hydroacoustic data alone. Despite these difficulties, mobile hydroacoustic surveys have potential to provide useful data for management because of the large sample volume compared to traditional methods such as gill netting and the ability to target specific areas where striped bass are aggregated. Hydroacoustic estimates of reservoir striped bass have been made using mobile surveys, with data analysis using a threshold for target strength in order to focus on striped bass-sized targets, and auxiliary sampling with nets to obtain species composition. We provide recommendations regarding survey design, based in part on simulations that provide insight on the level of effort that would be required to achieve reasonable estimates of abundance. Future surveys may be able to incorporate telemetry or other sonar techniques such as side-scan or multibeam in order to focus survey efforts on productive habitats (within lake and vertically). However, species apportionment will likely remain the main source of error, and we see no hydroacoustic system on the horizon that will identify fish by species at the spatial and temporal scale required for most reservoir surveys. In situations where species composition can be reliably assessed using traditional gears, abundance estimates from hydroacoustic methods should be useful to fishery managers interested in developing harvest regulations, assessing survival of stocked juveniles, identifying seasonal aggregations, and examining predator–prey balance.