We used observational and experimental approaches to obtain information on factors affecting the timing of maturation of kokanee Oncorhynchus nerka, a semelparous, landlocked salmon. Gonadal staging criteria were developed and applied to three kokanee populations in Idaho lakes and reservoirs. Testes were classified into three stages: immature (stage one, S1), maturing (S2), and mature (S3). Ovaries were classified into eight stages: immature (S1–S3), transitional (stage S4), maturing (S5–S7), and mature (S8). Males entered the maturing stage (S2) in February through April of the spawning year. Females entered maturing stage (S5) as early as July of the year before the spawning year, and as late as March of the spawning year. Three hatchery experiments demonstrated that attainment of a larger body size 10 to 16 months before spawning increased the likelihood of initiation of maturation in both sexes. No gonads in a state of regression were observed. A gonadosomatic index above 0.1 by early July was a good indicator of a maturing male, and a gonadosomatic index above 1.0 by early July was a good indicator of a maturing female. Instantaneous growth rates were not good predictors of maturation, but attaining a size threshold of 18 to 19 cm in the fall was a good predictor of maturation the following year. This improved knowledge of kokanee maturation will permit more effectively management of the species for age, growth and size at maturity as well as for contributions to fisheries.
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