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2006 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST 5(2):369–375
Upstream Migration of Two Pre-Spawning
Shortnose Sturgeon Passed Upstream of Pinopolis Dam,
Cooper River, South Carolina
Sam T. Finney1,*, J. Jeffery Isely2, and Douglas W. Cooke3
Abstract - Two shortnose sturgeon were artificially passed above the Pinopolis
Lock and Dam into the Santee-Cooper Lakes in order to simulate the use of a
fish-passage mechanism. Movement patterns and spawning behavior were studied
to determine the potential success of future shortnose sturgeon migrations if and
when a fish-migration bypass structure is installed. In addition to movement
patterns, water temperature was monitored in areas that shortnose sturgeons utilized.
Shortnose sturgeon migrated through a large static system to a known
shortnose sturgeon spawning area more than 160 km upstream where water temperatures
were consistent with known shortnose sturgeon spawning temperatures.
No specific movement patterns in the reservoir system were recorded during
Acipenser brevirostrum LeSuerer (shortnose sturgeon) range from St.
Johns Bay, Canada, to the St. John’s River, FL (Kynard 1997) and the
species has been listed as federally endangered since 1967. Reduced access
to spawning grounds, overfishing, poor water quality, and habitat degradation
have caused populations to decline (Collins et al. 2000, Crance 1986,
Moser and Ross 1995).
The shortnose sturgeon is amphidromous or semi-anadromous, spending
portions of its life cycle in low salinity estuaries and portions in freshwater
rivers (Buckley and Kynard 1985, Kynard 1997, Kynard et al. 2000).
Spawning, feeding, and wintering occur in different habitats within a given
river system (Bain 1997, Buckley and Kynard 1985, Kiefer and Kynard
1993). Shortnose sturgeon begin migrating to spawning areas in the spring
when water temperatures rise above 9 °C (Hall et al. 1991, Kynard 1997).
The act of spawning takes place at temperatures of 10–15 °C (Dadswell
1979). Often, only a portion of the adult population migrates during a
particular year, while many adult fish remain in wintering areas (Bain 1997,
Dadswell 1979, O’ Herron et al. 1993). After spawning is completed, some
fish may remain in upstream spawning areas for periods of up to several
years (Bain 1997, Buckley and Kynard 1985, Dadswell 1979).
1Department of Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Wildlife, Clemson University, Clemson,
SC 29634-0362. 2US Geological Survey, South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife
Research Unit, Clemson, SC 29634-0372. 3South Carolina Department of Natural
Resources, Dennis Wildlife Center, PO Box 190, Bonneau, SC 29431. *Corresponding
author - firstname.lastname@example.org.
370 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 2
Dams represent significant obstacles to migration and spawning of many
species (Beeman and Maule 2001, Moser et al. 2000, Pegg et al. 1997).
Historic solutions to the problems of fish passage around dams include
breaching the dam and installing specific fish-passage structures (Beeman
and Maule 2001). The use of navigation locks has been recently identified as
a potential low-cost alternative to the problem of fish passage (Moser et al.
2000). Shortnose sturgeon have been observed in the Pinopolis navigation
lock; however, they have not been observed passing upstream into Lake
Moultrie (Cooke et al. 2002).
Numerous species have been shown to migrate upstream through reservoirs
in order to spawn in historic spawning locations; additionally, the
downstream passage of numerous fishes has been studied (see for example
Jessop 1990, Pegg et al.1997, Raymond 1979). The upstream and downstream
migration behavior of shortnose sturgeon in reservoirs in the southeast
has not been documented. The objective of this study was to describe
movement of shortnose sturgeon artificially passed above a dam into a large
The Santee River was impounded in 1941 for flood control and hydroelectric
power and effectively formed the Santee-Cooper Lakes (Morrow et
al. 1997), which are comprised of Lake Marion (44,000 ha) and Lake
Moultrie (26,000 ha). The Santee-Cooper Lakes, along with portions of the
Cooper, Santee, and Congaree Rivers, compose the study site (Fig. 1). The
Santee-Cooper Lakes are unique in that the basins were not clear cut before
impoundment, leaving standing timber. The lakes contain areas of open
water as well as thick bottomland hardwood swamps.
Figure 1. The Santee-Cooper System.
2006 S.T. Finney, J.J. Isely, and D.W. Cooke 371
The study site is heavily impacted by anthropogenic effects including
the diversion of the Santee River into the Cooper River, the rediversion
of the Cooper River back to the Santee River and the presence of numerous
dams that act as barriers to migration. There is a fish ladder for
anadromous fish passage on the rediversion canal and a navigation lock
on the Cooper River. The Pinopolis lock is approximately 18-m wide and
73-m long and the dam’s power plant maintains flows of 127 m3/s (Cooke
et al. 2002). The major effect of these structures is that one river flows
into a lake system and two flow out, a unique feature of reservoirs on the
Two adult shortnose sturgeon were collected using monofilament drift
gillnets (5–9-cm stretch mesh, 2.5-m deep by 50-m long) on February 20,
2002, in the Pinopolis Dam tailrace canal, a known shortnose sturgeon
spawning aggregation area (Duncan et al., 2004). Fish were removed immediately
to avoid stress and surgically implanted with radio transmitters
using techniques described by Isely et al. (2002). Transmitters weighed 30 g,
were frequency coded (148–151 mHz), featured internal antennas, and
possessed a minimum battery life of 500 d (Advanced Telemetry Systems,
Inc., Isanti, MN). The fish were coded with tags 149.504 and 149.384.
Weight, fork length, and total length were recorded during tag implementation
and an attempt to sex fish was made (Table 1).
After implantation, fish were transported to a location approximately 5
km north of Pinopolis Dam and released into Lake Moultrie. Care was taken
to allow fish to fully recover and to release the fish when the dam was not
releasing water. Attempts were made to relocate fish daily by boat, or semimonthly
by air using a directional antenna in selected areas of Lakes Marion
and Moultrie, and the Wateree, Congaree, and upper Santee Rivers as far
upstream as the next barriers to migration. Water temperature at the location
of each fish was recorded. Movements were not statistically analyzed, but
only graphically represented.
The two shortnose sturgeon were released 1 h 4 min after their initial
capture. Continuous monitoring of the sexually mature sturgeon proved
problematic. The short range of the transmitters, combined with signal
Table 1. Total length, fork length, weight, and sex of the two released shortnose sturgeon.
Tag code Total length (mm) Fork length (mm) Weight (kg) Sex
149.054 1002 898 8.96 F
149.384 935 826 6.04 M*
*Sex not determined with certainty, fish may have been a small female.
372 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 2
attenuation resulted in the inability to detect the fish when they were in
deep (> 10-m) water. Despite extensive effort, these fish could not be
located when in the main body of Lakes Marion and Moultrie. Fish could
only be consistently located when they were in the upper Santee or
Within two weeks of release, both fish had traversed Lake Moultrie, the
Diversion Canal, Lake Marion, and the Congaree River, and were relocated
in the vicinity of Columbia, SC, near river kilometer 161, where they
remained for at least 14 d (Fig. 2). While in this area, fish were consistently
located near the only gravel deposit in the study area; however, the opportunistic
deployment of three egg mats failed to document spawning. Both fish
were located once above Granby Lock and Dam, a structure previously
thought to block anadromous fish migration. Due to logistical difficulties,
the area above Granby Lock and Dam was not routinely searched. Water
temperatures during the period the fish were near Columbia, SC, ranged
from 9.0–17.3 °C. After release, the mean upstream migration rate of these
fish was 22.4 km/d.
By the end of March, both fish rapidly migrated back down river, where
they were located near the confluence of the Santee River with Lake Marion.
Figure 2. Locations for two adult shortnose sturgeon released above Pinopolis Dam
in February 2002. Distance in river miles is measured from Pinopolis Dam along the
main channel of the historic Santee River and Congaree River. Horizontal reference
lines illustrate the boundaries between Lakes Moultrie and Marion, Lake Marion and
the Santee River, and the position of Rosewood Dam. The upper limit of the figure
(193 river kilometers) represents the location of the next barrier to migration.
2006 S.T. Finney, J.J. Isely, and D.W. Cooke 373
One fish was located on April 2, but not located again—the final time—until
April 22, despite extensive efforts to find it. Also, the other fish could not be
located between March 26 and May 20. On that date, that fish was again
located near the confluence of Lake Marion and the upper Santee River,
where it remained through the end of the study. During the periods when fish
could not be found, they were not located in the Wateree or Congaree Rivers,
or in the Santee or Cooper Rivers below Pinopolis or St. Stephens Dam. It is
presumed that the fish inhabited a depth beyond the range of detection in
some portion of Lake Marion or Lake Moultrie. It may also be possible that
fish inhabited an undescribed deep area of one of the rivers, or that tag
149.384 failed after April 22.
The shortnose sturgeon faces many problems. Passage in order for fish
to reach their natal spawning grounds is one of the problems that are
being actively examined. It is likely that adult shortnose sturgeon have a
behavioral drive to reach historical spawning grounds located upstream
A dam built downstream of a spawning reach will block the migration
of anadromous spawners, but may divide amphidromous populations into
upstream and downstream segments (Kynard 1997). This appears to be
the case in the Santee-Cooper system. If so, two questions related to the
passage of shortnose sturgeon in a divided population must be asked. Is it
good management practice to pass fish that may not be able to survive the
return downstream through a manmade dam, and will any larvae or juveniles
produced survive to recruit to the adult population? Lack of riverine
habitat upstream will negatively impact divided shortnose sturgeon populations,
and reservoirs upstream of dams provide no useful habitat
(Kynard et al. 2000). Persistence of upstream fish depends on spawning,
summer foraging, and wintering habitats (Kynard et al. 2000). Limited
exchange between upstream and downstream populations may already be
occurring (Cooke et al. 2002).
It is likely that increased passage of shortnose sturgeon at Pinopolis
Dam will result in additional spawning activity at upstream locations.
Kynard et al. (1999) found that shortnose sturgeon passed above Holyoke
Dam, CT, would successfully move upriver to known spawning locations
and successfully outmigrate through the dam. The failure to locate our
fish in the Cooper River suggests that these fish will require assistance in
order to outmigrate past Pinopolis Dam. Additional monitoring is needed
to evaluate outmigration after spawning.
In summary, the high-frequency transmitters with internal antennae performed
poorly in the Santee-Cooper Lakes, which resulted in a limited ability
to locate the fish and track their movements. Although only two sturgeon were
374 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 5, No. 2
tracked, their behavior demonstrated that passed shortnose sturgeon can
navigate the relatively still waters of Lakes Marion and Moultrie and rapidly
migrate to areas nearly 161 km upstream, where shortnose sturgeon spawning
was recently documented by other investigators (B. Post, South Carolina
Department of Natural Resources, pers. comm.). After a period when the fish
could not be located, they re-appeared in a location in Lake Marion where a
dam-locked population is known to reside (Quattro et al. 2002). Study fish
also likely attempted to out-migrate; however, migration back to Pinopolis
Dam could not be verified.
Santee Cooper Power Company, the South Carolina Department of Natural
Resources, and the US Geological Survey Biological Resources Division provided
funding for this research. We are grateful to the many people who assisted with
fieldwork, office work, and data entry, especially Steve Leach, Al Crosby, and
Bucky Harris. We thank Boyd Kynard, Phil Bettoli, and an anonymous reviewer for
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