Navigation-induced physical forces have been suggested to modify the structure of riverine fish assemblages by impeding especially the recruitment of littoral bound species. To investigate the effect of vessel frequency on fish, we compared the composition and seasonal succession of young-of-the-year (YOY) fish assemblages in three similarly degraded river reaches differing in average vessel passages (2, 6 and 41 per day). Fish were caught by electrofishing biweekly between May and September.
Multivariate tests were used to analyse differences between YOY-fish assemblages and hurdle regression models applied to determine abiotic factors predicting fish occurrence and abundance. Roach (Rutilus rutilus) and perch (Perca fluviatilis) densities were compared. Roach larvae remain in the littoral zone while perch larvae shift to the pelagic zone immediately after hatch. YOY-fish assemblage structure substantially changed along the traffic intensity gradient. In the high traffic intensity reach, species number and total fish density were markedly reduced compared to the other reaches. Roach densities were lowest in the high traffic intensity reach whereas perch densities did not decline along the gradient. Hurdle regressions confirmed a stronger effect of commercial navigation traffic intensity on roach than on perch. The total zooplankton biomass was highest in the high traffic intensity reach.
Our results provide empirical evidence that intensive commercial navigation impoverishes fish assemblages in width-restricted waterways. They underlined that in particular those species that have their first nursery habitats in shoreline areas were more affected by intensive commercial navigation than species whose larvae live predominantly pelagic. The results indicate that the negative effect of intensive navigation on riverine fish results primarily from the navigation-induced hydraulic disturbances along the banks. Therefore, mitigation of navigation-induced hydraulic forces is required to prevent degradation of fish communities in waterways. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.