Skip to main content

Ecology of fishes in a high-latitude, turbid river with implications for the impacts of hydrokinetic devices


Hydrokinetic devices generate electricity by capturing kinetic energy from flowing water as it moves across or through a rotor, without impounding or diverting the water source. The Tanana River in Alaska, a turbid glacial system, has been selected as a pilot location to evaluate the effects of such a device on fish communities that are highly valued by subsistence, sport, and commercial users. The basic ecology and habitat use of fishes in turbid glacial systems are poorly understood; therefore it is necessary to study the species composition of the fish community and the spatial and temporal patterns of mainstem river use by these fishes to evaluate impacts of a hydrokinetic device. In this document, we provide an overview of existing knowledge of fish ecology in the Tanana River and impacts of hydrokinetic devices on fishes in other river systems. Seventeen fish species are known to inhabit the Tanana River and several may utilize the deepest and fastest section of the channel, the probable deployment location for the hydrokinetic device, as a seasonal migration corridor. Previous studies in clearwater river systems indicate that mortality and injury rates from turbine passage are low. However, the results from these studies may not apply to the Tanana River because of its distinctive physical properties. To rectify this shortcoming, a conceptual framework for a comprehensive fish ecology study is recommended to determine the impacts of hydrokinetic devices on fishes in turbid, glacial rivers.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6


  1. Abernethy CS, Amidan BG, Cada GF (2001) Laboratory studies of the effects of pressure and dissolved gas supersaturation on turbine-passed fish. PNNL-13470, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

  2. Abernethy CS, Amidan BG, Cada GF (2002) Simulated passage through a modified Kaplan turbine pressure regime: a supplement to “Laboratory studies of the effects of pressure and dissolved gas supersaturation on turbine-passed fish.” PNNL-13470-A, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

  3. Abernethy CS, Amidan BG, Cada GF (2003) Fish passage through a simulated horizontal bulb turbine pressure regime: a supplement to “Laboratory studies of the effects of pressure and dissolved gas supersaturation on turbine-passed fish” PNNL-13470-B, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

  4. Alt KT (1979) Contributions to the life history of the humpback whitefish in Alaska. Trans Am Fish Soc 108:156–160

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Alt KT (1987) Review of sheefish (Stenodus leucichthys) studies in Alaska. Fishery Manuscript No. 3. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Juneau, AK, USA

  6. Birtwell IK, Samis SC, Khan NY (2005) Commentary on the management of fish habitat in northern Canada: information requirements and policy considerations regarding diamond, oil sands and placer mining. Can Tech Rep Fish Aquat Sci 2607:xii + 65

    Google Scholar 

  7. Borba BM (2007) Test fish wheel project using video monitoring techniques, Tanana River, 2003. Fish Data Ser No 07-55, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Divisions of Sport Fish and Commercial Fisheries, Anchorage, AK, USA

  8. Bradford MJ, Duncan J, Jang JW (2008) Downstream migrations of juvenile salmon and other fishes in the Upper Yukon River. Arctic 61:255–264

    Google Scholar 

  9. Breeser SW, Stearns FD, Smith MW, West RL, Reynolds JB (1988) Observations of movements and habitat preferences of burbot in an Alaskan glacial river system. Trans Am Fish Soc 117:506–509

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Brown JH, Hammer UH, Koshinsky GD (1970) Breeding biology of the lake chub, Couesius plumbeus, at Lac la Ronge, Saskatchewan. J Fish Res Board Can 27:1005–1015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Brown RJ, Lunderstadt C, Schulz B (2002) Movement patterns of radio-tagged adult humpback whitefish in the Upper Tanana River drainage. Alaska Fish Data Ser No 2002-1, U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 7, Fishery Resources, Fairbanks, AK, USA

  12. Bue FJ, Borba BM, Bergstrom DJ (2004) Yukon River fall chum stock status and action plan: a report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Region Info Rep No 3A04-05. Anchorage, AK, USA

  13. Burkholder A, Bernard DR (1994) Movements and distribution of radio-tagged northern pike in Minto Flats. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Fish Manuscript No 94-1, Anchorage, AK, USA

  14. Burril SE, Zimmerman CE, Finn JE (2010) Characteristics of fall chum salmon spawning habitat on a mainstem river in Interior Alaska: US Geological Survey Open-File Rep 2010-1164, 20 pp

  15. Cada GF (1997) Shaken, not stirred: the recipe for a fish-friendly turbine. Waterpower 97, proceedings of the international conference and exposition on hydropower. American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, NY

  16. Cada G, Ahlgrimm J, Bahleda M, Bigford T, Stavrakas SD, Hall D, Moursund R, Sale M (2007) Potential impacts of hydrokinetic and wave energy conversion technologies on aquatic environments. Fisheries 32:174–181

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Cappiello TA, Bromaghin JF (1997) Mark-recapture abundance estimate of fall-run chum salmon in the Upper Tanana River, Alaska, 1995. Alaska Fish Res Bull 4:12–35

    Google Scholar 

  18. Chen LC (1968) The biology and taxonomy of the burbot, Lota lota leptura, in interior Alaska. Biol Pap University of Alaska, No 11, 53 pp

  19. Clark RA, Ridder WP (1988) Stock assessment of Arctic grayling in the Tanana River drainage. Fish Data Ser No 54, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Juneau, AK, USA

  20. CMACS (Centre for Marine and Coastal Studies) (2003) A baseline assessment of electromagnetic fields generated by offshore windfarm cables. COWRIE Rep EMF-01-2002 66. Liverpool, UK

  21. Daum DW, Osborne BM (1998) Use of fixed-location, split-beam sonar to describe temporal and spatial patterns of adult fall chum salmon migration in the Chandalar River, Alaska. N Am J Fish Manag 18:477–486

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Deng Z, Guensch GR, McKinstry CA, Mueller RP, Dauble DD, Richmond MC (2005) Evaluation of fish-injury mechanisms during exposure to turbulent shear flow. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 62(7):1513–1522

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Dittman AH, Quinn TP (1996) Homing in Pacific salmon: mechanisms and ecological basis. J Exp Biol 199:83–91

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Doxey M (2007) Fishery management report for sport fisheries in the Lower Tanana River Management Area for 2001–2002 with available updates for 2003. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Fish Manag Rep No 07-02, Anchorage, AK, USA

  25. Dupuis AW (2010) Reproductive biology and movement patterns of humpback whitefish and least cisco in the Minto Flats-Chatanika River complex, Alaska. M.S. Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks

  26. Durst JD (2001) Fish habitats and use in the Tanana River floodplain near Big Delta, Alaska, 1999–2000. Tech Rep No 01-05, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Habitat and Restoration Division, Juneau, AK, USA

  27. Evenson MJ (1993) Seasonal movement of radio-implanted burbot in the Tanana River drainage. Fish Data Ser No 93-47, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Anchorage, AK, USA

  28. Franke GF, Webb DR, Fisher RK, Mathus D, Hopping PN, March PA, Headrick MR, Laczo IT, Ventikos Y, Sotiropoulos F (1997) Development of environmentally advanced hydropower turbine system design concepts. Voith Hydro, Inc. Rep No 2677-0141, prepared for the US Department of Energy, DOE Idaho Operations Office, Idaho Falls, ID, USA

  29. Geen GH, Northcote TG, Hartman GF, Lindsey CC (1966) Life histories of two species of catostomid fishes in sixteen mile lake, British Columbia, with particular reference to inlet spawning. J Fish Res Board Can 23(11):1761–1788

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Gregory RS, Levings CD (1998) Turbidity reduces predation on migrating juvenile Pacific salmon. Trans Am Fish Soc 127:275–285

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hayes SJ, Bue FJ, Borba BM, Boeck KR, Carroll HC, Boeck L, Newland EJ, Clark KJ, Busher WH (2008) Annual management report Yukon and northern areas 2002–2004. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Commercial Fisheries Division, Fish Manag Rep No 08-36, Anchorage, AK, USA

  32. Headrick MR (1998) A predictive model for fish survival in axial flow turbines. Hydrovision ‘98: Exploring our new frontiers technical papers. HCI Publications, Kansas City, MO, USA

    Google Scholar 

  33. Hemming CR, Morris WA (1999) Fish habitat investigations in the Tanana River watershed 1997. Tech Rep No 99-1, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Habitat and Restoration Division, Juneau, AK, USA

  34. Hubbs CL, Trautman MB (1935) The need for investigating fish conditions in winter. Trans Am Fish Soc 65:51–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hughes NF (1998) Use of whole-stream patterns of age segregation to infer the interannual movements of stream salmonids: a demonstration with Arctic grayling in an interior Alaskan stream. Trans Am Fish Soc 127:1067–1071

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Hughes NF (1999) Population processes responsible for larger-fish-upstream distribution patterns of Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) in interior Alaskan runoff rivers. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 56:2292–2299

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kemp PS, Gessel MH, Williams JG (2005) Fine-scale behavioral responses of Pacific salmonid smolts as they encounter divergence and acceleration of flow. Trans Am Fish Soc 134(2):390–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Khan MJ, Bhuyan G, Iqbal MT, Quaicoe JE (2009) Hydrokinetic energy conversion systems and assessment of horizontal and vertical axis turbines for river and tidal applications: a technology status review. Appl Energy 86:1823–1835

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Koenig M (2002) Life histories and distributions of Copper River fishes. In: Mount JF, Moyle P, Yarnell S (eds) Glacial and periglacial process as hydrogeomorphic and ecological drivers in high-latitude watersheds. UC Davis Geology Department, Davis, CA, USA

    Google Scholar 

  40. Kucheryavyi AV, Savvaitova KA, Pavlov DS, Gruzdeva MA, Kuzishchin KV, Stanford JA (2007) Variations of life history strategy of the Arctic lamprey (Lethenteron camtschaticum) from the Utkholok River (Western Kamchatka). J Ichthyol 47(1):37–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Mann S, Sparks NHC, Walker MM, Kirschvink JL (1988) Ultrastructure, morphology and organization of biogenic magnetite from sockeye salmon, Oncorhynchus nerka: implications for magnetoreception. J Exp Biol 140:35–49

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  42. McPhail JD, Lindsey CC (1970) Freshwater fishes of north-western Canada and Alaska. Fish Res Board Can Bull 173:381 pp

    Google Scholar 

  43. Mecum RD (1984) Habitat utilization by fishes in the Tanana River near Fairbanks, AK. M.S. Thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks

  44. Michel J, Dunagan H, Boring C, Healy E, Evans W, Dean JM, McGillis A, Hain J (2007) Worldwide synthesis and analysis of existing information regarding environmental effects of alternative energy uses on the Outer Continental Shelf. OCS Report MMS 2007-038. Minerals Management Service, US Department of the Interior, Washington DC, USA

  45. Morrow JE (1980) The freshwater fishes of Alaska. Alaska Northwest Publishing Co, Anchorage, AK, USA 248 pp

    Google Scholar 

  46. Mueller A-M, Degan DJ, Kieser R, Mulligan T (2006) Estimating sockeye salmon smolt flux and abundance with side-looking sonar. N Am J Fish Manage 26:523–534

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Normandeau Associates, Inc (2009) An estimation of survival and injury of fish passed through the Hydro Green Energy hydrokinetic system, and a characterization of fish entrainment potential at the Mississippi lock and dam no. 2 hydroelectric project (P-4306) Hastings, Minnesota. Prepared for Hydro Green Energy, LLC, Drumore, PA, USA

  48. Odling-Smee L, Braithwaite VA (2003) The role of learning in fish orientation. Fish Fish 4:235–246

    Google Scholar 

  49. Ott AG, Winters JF, Townsend AH (1998) Juvenile fish use of selected habitats in the Tanana River near Fairbanks (preliminary report). Tech Rep No 97-1, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Habitat and Restoration Division, Juneau, AK, USA

  50. Previsic M, Bedard R (2008) River in-stream energy conversion (RISEC) characterization of Alaska sites, EPRI–RP-003-Alaska

  51. Previsic M, Bedard R, Polagye B (2008) System level design, performance, cost and economic assessment–Alaska river in-stream power plants, EPRI–RP-006-Alaska

  52. Ransom BH, Johnston SV, Steig TW (1998) Review on monitoring adult salmonid (Oncorhynchus and Salmo spp) escapement using fixed-location split-beam hydroacoustics. Fish Res 35:33–42

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Reist JD, Bond WA (1988) Life history characteristics of migratory coregonids of the lower Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories. Can Finnish Fish Res 9:133–144

    Google Scholar 

  54. Roberge M, Hume JMB, Minns CK, Slaney T (2002) Life history characteristics of freshwater fishes occurring in British Columbia and the Yukon, with major emphasis on stream habitat characteristics. Can Manuscr Rep Fish Aquat Sci 2611:xiv + 248 pp

  55. Scott WB, Crossman EL (1973) Freshwater fishes of Canada. Bull Fish Res Board Can 184:966 pp

    Google Scholar 

  56. Slavík O, Bartos L (2002) Factors affecting migrations of burbot. J Fish Biol 60:989–998

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Slavík O, Bartos L, Mattas D (2005) Does stream morphology predict the home range size in burbot? Environ Biol Fish 74:89–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Stewart IJ, Carlson SM, Boatright CP, Buck GB, Quinn TP (2004) Site fidelity of spawning sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka W.) in the presence and absence of olfactory cues. Ecol Freshw Fish 13:104–110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Svendsen JC, Eskesen A, Aarestrup K, Koed A, Jordan A (2007) Evidence of non-random spatial positioning of migrating smolts (Salmonidae) in a small lowland stream. Freshw Biol 52:1147–1158

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Tack SL (1980) Migrations and distributions of Arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus (Pallus), in Interior and Arctic Alaska. Annual performance report, Vol 21, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sport Fish Division, Juneau, AK, USA

  61. USDOE (US Department of Energy) (2009) Report to Congress on the potential environmental effects of marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies. USDOE Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program, DOE/GO-102009-2955, 143 pp

  62. Winchell FC, Amaral S, Dixon D (2000) Hydroelectric turbine entrainment and survival database: an alternative to field studies. Hydrovision 2000, Charlotte, NC, USA

Download references


Thanks to J. Johnson for his tireless efforts on hydrokinetics coordination, monitoring and research in Alaska. This review was supported by funding from the Alaska Energy Authority.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew C. Seitz.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Seitz, A.C., Moerlein, K., Evans, M.D. et al. Ecology of fishes in a high-latitude, turbid river with implications for the impacts of hydrokinetic devices. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries 21, 481–496 (2011).

Download citation


  • Hydrokinetics
  • Tanana river
  • Turbine
  • Glacial river
  • Salmonid
  • Smolts