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Downstream Passage and Impact of Turbine Shutdowns on Survival of Silver American Eels

Downstream Passage and Impact of Turbine Shutdowns on Survival of Silver American Eels at Five Hydroelectric Dams on the Shenandoah River

Authors: Eyler SM, Welsh SA, Smith DR, Rockey MM
Source: Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 145:964-976, 2016

Abstract. Hydroelectric dams impact the downstream migrations of silver American Eels Anguilla rostrata via migratory delays and turbine mortality. A radiotelemetry study of American Eels was conducted to determine the impacts of five run-of-the-river hydroelectric dams located over a 195-km stretch of the Shenandoah River, Virginia–West Virginia, during fall 2007–summer 2010. Overall, 96 radio-tagged individuals (mean TL = 85.4 cm) migrated downstream past at least one dam during the study. Most American Eels passed dams relatively quickly; over half (57.9%) of the dam passage Events occurred within 1 h of reaching a dam, and most (81.3%) occurred within 24 h of reaching the dam. Two-thirds of the dam passage events occurred via spill, and the remaining passage events were through turbines. Migratory delays at dams were shorter and American Eels were more likely to pass via spill over the dam during periods of high river discharge than during low river discharge. The extent of delay in migration did not differ between the passage routes (spill versus turbine). Twenty-eight American Eels suffered turbine-related mortality, which occurred at all five dams. Mortality rates for eels passing through turbines ranged from 15.8% to 40.7% at individual dams. Overall project-specific mortality rates (with all passage routes combined) ranged from 3.0% to 14.3%. To protect downstream-migrating American Eels, nighttime turbine shutdowns (1800–0600 hours) were implemented during September 15–December 15. Fifty percent of all downstream passage events in the study occurred during the turbine shutdown period. Implementation of the seasonal turbine shutdown period reduced cumulative mortality from 63.3% to 37.3% for American Eels passing all five dams. Modifying the turbine shutdown period to encompass more dates in the spring and linking the shutdowns to environmental conditions could provide greater protection to downstream-migrating American Eels.

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