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Using Hydroacoustics to Understand Fish Presence and Vertical Distribution in a Tidally Dynamic Region Targeted for Energy Extraction

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The use of tidal currents by fishes for movements to and from onshore spawning, foraging, and nursery grounds is well documented. However, fishes’ use of the water column in tidal currents frequently exceeding 1.5 m · s-1 is largely unknown. With growing interest in extracting energy from the tides, understanding animal use of these dynamic environments has become essential to determining environmental effects of tidal energy devices. To assess the effects of a tidal energy device on fishes, we used down-looking single-beam hydroacoustic technology to collect pre-deployment data on the presence and vertical distribution of fishes at a pilot project site and a control site in Cobscook Bay, ME. Twenty-four-hour stationary surveys were conducted in each season of 2010 and 2011. Relative fish density and vertical distribution were analyzed for variation with respect to site, year, month, and diel and tidal cycles. A seasonal pattern in fish density was apparent in both years at both sites, with maxima in spring and late fall. Fish density was generally highest near the sea floor. Diel changes in vertical distribution were frequently observed, but changes in distribution related to tidal cycle were inconsistent. Results from the project and control sites were very similar, demonstrating that the control site provides a reference for quantifying changes in fish density and vertical distribution related to the tidal device. This approach and baseline dataset will be used to compare hydroacoustic data collected at the project and control sites after device deployment.

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We would like to thank the employees of Ocean Renewable Power Company for their generous contribution of time and resources, Captain George Harris, Jr. and crew for their invaluable assistance in the field, and Donald Degan, Anna-Maria Mueller, and Michael Jech for their acoustics advice. We also thank everyone who volunteered field time, Jeffrey Vieser and Huijie Xue for sharing unpublished data, and the members of the Maine Tidal Power Initiative and Michael Peterson for their assistance. This work was supported by an award from the United States Department of Energy, project #DE-EE0003647. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ocean Renewable Power Company or any of its subagencies.

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Correspondence to Gayle Barbin Zydlewski.

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Communicated by Wayne S. Gardner

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Viehman, H.A., Zydlewski, G.B., McCleave, J.D. et al. Using Hydroacoustics to Understand Fish Presence and Vertical Distribution in a Tidally Dynamic Region Targeted for Energy Extraction. Estuaries and Coasts 38 (Suppl 1), 215–226 (2015).

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