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Temporal and environmental influences on the variation in Atlantic salmon smolt migration in the Burrishoole system 1970–2000


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The relationships between a number of environmental variables and the number of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar smolts migrating in the Burrishoole system, western Ireland, were examined over a 30 year period from 1970 to 2000. The number of Atlantic salmon smolts recorded migrating downstream decreased significantly from an annual mean of 11 579 in the 1970s to a mean of 6272 in the 1990s. The primary factor in the decline in Atlantic salmon numbers was a consistent decline in the number of returning adults from the 1970s until the mid 1990s. Timing of the smolt migrations (runs) was consistent throughout the three decades. The mean durations of the smolt runs were 102·1, 92·6 and 103·2 days for the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s respectively. Mean surface water temperatures at key points in the smolt run for the three decades were also similar. Mean water temperature values were 5·4, 5·1 and 5·3° C at the start of the smolt runs and 15·2, 14·9 and 15·3° C at the end of the smolt runs in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s respectively. Multivariate analysis identified two groups of environmental variables which had a significant influence on the daily smolt catch. One group of variables dominated by photoperiod and temperature operated prior to the smolt run and was considered to regulate the development of smoltification. The second group of variables dominated by total light and water level operated within the smolt run and was considered to control daily smolt migration.