Predation on returning runs of adult salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) can have a large influence on their spawning success. At McNeil River State Game Sanctuary (MRSGS), Alaska, brown bears (Ursus arctos) congregate in high numbers annually along the lower McNeil River to prey upon returning adult chum salmon (O. keta). Low chum salmon escapements into McNeil River since the late 1990s have been proposed as a potential factor contributing to concurrent declines in bear numbers. The objective of this study was to determine the extent of bear predation on chum salmon in McNeil River, especially on pre-spawning fish, and use those data to adjust the escapement goal for the river. In 2005 and 2006, 105 chum salmon were radiotagged at the river mouth and tracked to determine cause and location of death. Below the falls, predators consumed 99% of tagged fish, killing 59% of them before they spawned. Subsequently, the escapement goal was nearly doubled to account for this pre-spawning mortality and to ensure enough salmon to sustain both predators and prey. This approach to integrated fish and wildlife management at MRSGS can serve as a model for other systems where current salmon escapement goals may not account for pre-spawning mortality.
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Vol. 24 • No. 1