Diet of striped bass and muskellunge downstream of a large hydroelectric dam: A preliminary investigation into suspected Atlantic salmon predation

Top predators, such as the Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis ) and Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) , can impact food webs and alter ecosystem structure through the regulation of prey populations. Within the Saint John River, New Brunswick, Canada, both predators have long been hypothesized to impart significant mortality on smolts of the endangered Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar ). As a consequence, current management practices entail euthanizing Muskellunge (an introduced species) that enter fish passage facilities along the Saint John River. Furthermore, the recovery and protection of a native Striped Bass population have largely been ignored. To assess seasonal diet, gastric lavage was performed on Striped Bass (n = 244) and Muskellunge (n = 96) captured in the downstream proximity of the Mactaquac Dam from April to November 2016. Clupeids dominated the stomach contents by number (92% for Striped Bass; 49% for Muskellunge) and mass (71% for striped bass; 96% for muskellunge). Other prey species included white perch (Morone americana) , yellow perch (Perca flavescens) , American shad (Alosa sapidissima) , and American eels (Anguilla rostrata) . No Atlantic Salmon smolts or other regionally recognized recreational fish species were identified in any of the stomach samples (n = 340) examined. Concurrently, this study observed little temporal overlap between the smolt migratory period and the arrival of Striped Bass to the Mactaquac Dam. Some Striped Bass (n = 33) were observed to be in spawning condition, releasing eggs and milt when handled, although reproduction by this species in the Saint John River was thought to have ceased long ago.