Kamchatka Steelhead Project Report

From 1994-2002, the Wild Salmon Center guided scientific expeditions in Kamchatka as part of the Kamchatka Steelhead Project, the groundbreaking twenty-year joint Russian-American scientific project studying steelhead and trout. Collaborating with local and international groups, the Wild Salmon Center established a reputation as a leader with unmatched dedication, experience, and a deep interest in the long-term sustainability of the region. These scientific expeditions resulted in a wealth of new information on the genetic diversity, population structure, and health of Kamchatka’s steelhead and trout. Many of these findings have been published in the Russian and American scientific literature.

The Kamchatka Steelhead Project was developed jointly by the Ichthyology Department of Moscow State University (Russia) and the Wild Salmon Center (USA) to study and conserve steelhead, a species listed in the Red Book of Russia. In the first five years of work (1994-1998), participants in the joint program conducted expeditions on eight rivers in western Kamchatka collected a wide variety of scientific materials and data.

While the guided expeditions are no longer part of the Wild Salmon Center’s work on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kamchatka Steelhead Project continues as a scientific partnership between WSC, the Ichthyology Department of Moscow State University, and the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station. In this report, we present the results of processing and analyzing the body of materials collected over the first five years. Most of the results are new scientific findings.

Part I. Overview and Methodology

  1. OverviewThe 20-year (1994-2014) scientific program to study and conserve the present condition of Kamchatkan steelhead (mikizha), a species listed in the Red Book of Russia. In the first five years of this program, we have analyzed and assessed the nature of the problem, the current level of knowledge, the extent of research, the goals and tasks, the starting assumptions, the methods of proceeding, and the expected results. An annotated list of the publications produced by the project in this time period is attached to the report.
  2. MethodologyThe limitations imposed on fieldwork by the Red Book status of the species are discussed, as are the principles on which the selection of study sites is based, the non-destructive methods of collecting most of the materials, and the scope of the materials collected. The basic method of collection is by fly fishing on a catch-and-release basis; this method does minimal harm to populations of the species. The possibilities for collecting materials for analyses that require killing the specimen fish are severely restricted by the small number of permits issued for this purpose. In a number of instances, the collected material is not sufficiently representative, and must be combined with similar material from other years. This drawback, however, is somewhat compensated for by the complex nature of the investigations and the simultaneous study of the characteristics of numerous local populations of mikizha on a comparative basis.

Part II. Scientific Results

  1. Epigenetic variations of the life strategies of mikizha in the rivers of western Kamchatka. Five variations of life strategies, or adaptive norms, of Kamchatkan Parasalmo (Oncorhynchus) mykiss are identified for the first time on the basis of scale morphology. They belong to two basic types: a resident (riverine) type, and a migratory type, which consists of typically-anadromous, anadromous (including the “half-pounder” stage), estuary, and river-estuary life strategies. The migratory type varies greatly, depending on the length of migration routes and the length of time spent at sea prior to sexual maturation. The diversity of phenotypic variations with different life strategies is the expression of individual changeability. The ratio and frequency of phenotypic variations with different life strategies are not uniform throughout the range, and are determined by specific living conditions in different rivers. A key is proposed to determine the scale types and the life strategy variations with which they correspond.
  2. Scale morphology as criteria for differentiation of local stocks of mikizha in western Kamchatka.The scale structure (number of circuli, width of annual growth zones) in the river and marine years of life of mikizha phenotypes with different life strategies in different rivers of Kamchatka and North America is examined. Small differences in the scale structure of mikizha from different local stock are found and, in principle, it is possible to differentiate local stocks by this method.
  3. The structure of local populations of mikizha in western Kamchatkan rivers. The correlation of phenotypes with different life strategies in local populations is studied. These include the dates of entering the river and of spawning; the age composition; the duration of the periods spent in the river and at sea; the age of first sexual maturation; repeat spawning; body length and weight; and growth rates of mikizha in six rivers of western Kamchatka and the Sandy River of Alaska in comparison with other populations in North America. In western Kamchatka, the preponderant form is anadromous mikizha of the stream maturing type; in North America the preponderant populations are of the ocean maturing type, which enter the river with mature gonads. In contrast to the Kamchatkan populations, the American populations are characterized by extended periods of migration and spawning. The indices that characterize local population structures in Kamchatka and in North America vary between comparable limits, and are determined by specific living conditions.
  4. Morphometric description of mikizha in various West Kamchatkan rivers, and the tendency of morphometric features to change over time. Analysis of multiple measurements shows that there is a relatively small degree of divergence in external morphological features among typically anadromous mikizha in the western Kamchatkan rivers we studied. Despite a certain observable correlation between the latitude of the habitat and geographic variability in the number of vertebrae and the branching fin rays, variability in other features is a mosaic that is probably largely determined by specific living conditions.Changes in morphometric features of Kamchatkan steelhead from three northwestern Kamchatkan rivers that were subject to various degrees of human impact were studied with respect to chronology (1971-72 and 1994-96). In all of the rivers, the size of the fish, the average size of most of the features, the indices of change and the nature of the distribution curves did not change noticeably. The number of vertebrae, however, diminished, and the changes are not only in the center of the range of values, but are also at the limits of variation for this feature. The greatest changes were observed for steelhead from the Utkholok River, a population whose numbers diminished and whose population structure changed. In the aggregate of features, there were tendencies to change in the external appearance of the fish, and the Utkholok River population of mikizha occupied a more distant position in relation to the populations of the Snatolveyem and Kvachina rivers.
  5. Phenetic diversity of freshwater trout in Kamchatka. Until recently, the only form of freshwater trout known to exist in Kamchatkan water bodies was mikizha, P. (O.) mykiss mykiss, analogous to the American P. (O.) mykiss irideus. In the basin of the Tigil River we discovered for the first time trout with features of the American redband trout P. (O.) mykiss, as well as with features of P. (O.) clarki clarki (coastal cutthroat trout), P. (O.) clarki lewisi (westslope cutthroat trout), or P. (O.) mykiss aguabonita (Californian golden trout). The Kamchatkan forms, however, are not fully identical to any of the American subspecies. There are transitions between all of them–individuals with different combinations of unclearly expressed features–which are difficult to assign to one or another form. On the whole, the Tigil River basin trout are a series of forms, the extreme variants of which differ greatly from each other in the number and distribution of black spots on head and body, in the brightness and dimensions of the orange spot on the throat (the cutthroat mark), in the rainbow stripe along the lateral line, and in the number and development of the basibranchial teeth. The cutthroat trouts, P. (O.) clarki and the redband trouts of the species P. (O.) mykiss, which until recently were known only in North America, are the most primitive representatives of the group. It is not improbable that the primitive Kamchatkan forms diverged from each other to a lesser degree than did the American representatives and that northeast Asia was the place where the evolution of the group began.
  6. Osteological description of anadromous and freshwater forms of Kamchatkan representatives of genus Parasalmo in connection with the problem of determining their taxonomic status. We studied the osteological features of anadromous Kamchatkan mikizha P. (O.) mykiss from the Kvachina River and of freshwater trout from the Tigil River basin, which are similar to redband trout P. (O.) mykiss or cutthroat trout P. (O.) clarki. Both quantitative and qualitative differences were found in the structure of the skulls and of individual bones. Only a few features, however, have taxonomic significance. Differences were found in the form of the vomer, in the number of rows of teeth on its handle, and in the numbers of teeth themselves, on the basis of which both of the studied forms can be distinguished without error. Anadromous and freshwater mikizha are well distinguished by the position of the hyomandibular bone in relation to the flat surface of the bone and the form of the canals on the dorsal surface of the ethmoid section of the chondrocranium.
  7. Isozyme variability and the genetic divergence of Pacific trouts (genus Parasalmo) of western Kamchatka. Preliminary data show that the species P. (O.) mykiss is represented in the Kamchatkan part of its range by populations, each of which is to some degree genetically unique and has alleles which are specific to Kamchatka. By the level of genetic diversity and polymorphic protein loci it is possible to separate eastern Kamchatkan mikizha (from the basin of the largest river in Kamchatka) and western Kamchatkan populations. Separate polymorphic loci can serve as geographic markers of populations. The complex population structure of mikizha in some of the rivers we studied could theoretically be connected to the genetic determination of the ecoforms. This makes it exceedingly important to conduct intrapopulation genetic analysis of the local stocks of Kamchatkan mikizha.
  8. The problem of the genetic status of Pacific salmons and trouts. A systematic genetic analysis. Atlantic salmons and Pacific salmons and trouts were studied by electrophoretic analysis of nuclear DNA, using fine-splintering restriction enzymes (the taxonoprint method). The DNA patterns of the studied species divide into four groups. These groups correspond to genetic rank.

Part III. Preservation Approaches

Approaches to preserving the biodiversity of fishes in Kamchatka. The role of rare and vanishing species of fishes listed in the Red Book in the preservation of biodiversity.

Approaches to preserving the biodiversity of fishes in Kamchatka are proposed. Using the example of Kamchatkan steelhead, the role of rare and vanishing species of fish in preserving biodiversity is discussed. For the first time in Russia, a model is being developed for the conservation of species diversity on the basis of a combination of ecosystem and population approaches. A new model for studying a Red Book species without harming it has been tested and approved. In the framework of a scientific expedition, its sponsors–international angler-conservationists–participate in the collection of scientific materials to assess the biodiversity of a Red Book species, working on the principle of “catch and release.” Their work can be viewed as the highest form of ecotourism.

The five-year report is set forth in 238 pages of typed text, with 82 tables and 53 figures. See abstracts and referenced for individual articles.