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2011 Annual Survey of Juvenile Salmon, Ecologically-Related Species, and Biophysical Factors in the Marine Waters of Southeastern Alaska

September 25, 2011

Juvenile Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.), ecologically-related species, and associated biophysical data were collected from the marine waters of the northern region of southeastern Alaska (SEAK) in 2011. This annual survey, conducted by the Southeast Coastal Monitoring (SECM) project, marks 15 consecutive years of systematically monitoring how juvenile salmon utilize marine ecosystems during a period of climate change. The survey was implemented to identify the relationships between year-class strength of juvenile salmon and biophysical parameters that influence their habitat use, marine growth, prey fields, predation, and stock interactions. This report also contrasts the 2011 findings with selected biophysical factors from the prior 14 sampling years. Thirteen stations were sampled monthly in epipelagic waters from May to August (total of 21 sampling days). Fish, zooplankton, surface water samples, and physical profile data were typically collected during daylight at each station using a surface rope trawl, Norpac and bongo nets, a water sampler, and a conductivity-temperature-depth profiler. Surface (3-m) temperatures and salinities ranged from approximately 6 to 14 ºC and 15 to 32 PSU, respectively, from May to August across inshore, strait, and coastal habitats. A total of 6,640 fish and squid, representing 27 taxa, were captured in 96 rope trawl hauls fished from June to August. Juvenile salmon comprised approximately 78% of the total fish catch. Juvenile pink
(O. gorbuscha), chum (O. keta), sockeye (O. nerka), and coho (O. kisutch) salmon occurred in 42-80% of the hauls by month and habitat, while juvenile Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha) occurred in ≤ 17% of the hauls. Abundance of juvenile salmon was relatively low in 2011; peak catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) in strait habitat occurred in August for all species except chum salmon (June). Coded-wire tags were recovered from 10 coho salmon and 6 Chinook salmon from hatchery and wild stocks originating in SEAK and Washington. Alaska enhanced stocks were also identified by thermal otolith marks from 60%, 21%, and 5% of chum, sockeye, and coho salmon examined, respectively. Predation on juvenile salmon was observed in 3 of 9 species examined. Biophysical measures from 2011 differed from prior years, in many respects. Compared to the 15-yr longterm mean values, temperature anomalies were negative, salinity anomalies were positive, zooplankton density was low, and condition residuals were negative for juvenile pink, chum, and sockeye salmon. The SECM juvenile salmon stock assessment and biophysical data are used in conjunction with basin-scale biophysical data to forecast pink salmon harvest in SEAK. Longterm seasonal monitoring of key stocks of juvenile salmon and associated ecologically-related species, including fish predators and prey, permits researchers to understand how growth, abundance, and interactions affect year-class strength of salmon during climate change in marine ecosystems.

The Southeast Coastal Monitoring (SECM) project, an ecosystem study in the northern region of southeastern Alaska (SEAK), was initiated in 1997 to annually study the early marine ecology of Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) and associated epipelagic ichthyofauna and to better understand effects of climate change on salmon production. Salmon are a keystone species in SEAK whose role in marine ecosystems remains poorly understood. Fluctuations in the survival of this important living marine resource have broad ecological and socioeconomic implications for coastal localities throughout the Pacific Rim.

Relationships between climate shifts and production have impacted year-class strength of Pacific salmon throughout their distribution (Beamish et al. 2010a, b). In particular, climate variables such as temperature have been associated with both freshwater production (Bryant 2009; Taylor 2008) and ocean production, and survival of both wild and hatchery salmon (Wertheimer et al. 2001; Beauchamp et al. 2007). Biophysical attributes of climate may influence the trophic links leading to variable growth and survival of salmon (Francis et al. 1998; Brodeur et al. 2007; Coyle et al. 2011). However, research is lacking on the links between salmon production and climate variability, intra- and interspecific competition and carrying capacity, and biological interactions among stock groups (Beamish et al. 2010a). In addition, past research has not provided adequate time series data to explain these links (Pearcy 1997; Beamish et al. 2008). Increases in salmon production throughout the Pacific Rim in recent decades have elevated the importance of understanding the consequences of population changes and potential interactions on the growth, distribution, migratory rates, and survival of all salmon species and stock groups. Furthermore, region-scale spatial effects that are important to salmon production (Pyper et al. 2005) may be linked to local dynamics in complex marine ecosystems like SEAK (Weingartner et al. 2008).

A goal of the SECM project is to identify mechanisms linking salmon production to climate change using a time series of synoptic data related to salmon and the ocean conditions they experience, including stock-specific life history characteristics. The SECM project obtains stock information from coded-wire tags (CWT; Jefferts et al. 1963) or otolith thermal marks (Hagen and Munk 1994; Courtney et al. 2000) from all five Pacific salmon species: pink (O. gorbuscha), chum (O. keta), sockeye (O. nerka), coho (O. kisutch), and Chinook (O. tshawytscha). Portions of wild and hatchery salmon stocks are tagged or marked prior to ocean entry by enhancement facilities or state and federal agencies in SEAK, Canada, and the Pacific Northwest. Catches of these marked fish by the SECM project in the northern, southern, and coastal regions of SEAK have provided information on habitat use, migration rates, and timing (e.g., Orsi et al. 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008); in addition, interceptions in the regional common property fisheries have documented substantial contributions of enhanced fish to commercial harvests (White 2011). Therefore, examining trends in early marine ecology and potential interactions of these marked stock groups provides an opportunity to link increasing wild and hatchery salmon production to climate change (Ruggerone and Nielsen 2009; Rand et al. 2012).

An ecosystem approach to examining the extent of interactions between salmon stock groups and co-occurring species in marine ecosystems is also important with regard to carrying capacity, and should examine both “bottom-up” and “top-down” production controls. For example, increased hatchery production of juvenile chum salmon coincided with declines of some wild chum salmon stocks, suggesting the potential for negative stock interactions in the marine environment (Seeb et al. 2004; Reese et al. 2009). In SEAK, however, SECM and other studies have indicated that growth is not food limited and that stocks interact extensively with little negative impact (Bailey et al. 1975; Orsi et al. 2004; Sturdevant et al. 2004, 2012a). Zooplankton prey fields are more likely to be cropped by the more abundant planktivorous forage fish, including walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) and Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) (Orsi et al. 2004; Sigler and Csepp 2007), than by juvenile salmon. Seasonal and interannual changes in abundance of planktivorous jellyfish, another potential competitor with juvenile salmon, have been reported by SECM (Orsi et al. 2009). Therefore, monitoring abundance of jellyfish may be an important indicator of potential “bottom-up” trophic interactions (Purcell and Sturdevant 2001), particularly during periods of environmental change (Brodeur et al. 2008; Cieciel et al. 2009). Companion studies in Icy Strait also indicated that food quantity can be more important than food quality for growth and survival of juvenile salmon (Weitkamp and Sturdevant 2008). As a result, monitoring the composition, abundance, and timing of zooplankton taxa with different life history strategies may permit the detection of climate-related changes in the seasonality and interannual abundance of prey fields (Coyle and Paul 1990; Park et al. 2004; Coyle et al. 2011). In contrast, “top-down” predation events can also affect salmon year-class strength (Sturdevant et al. 2009, 2012b). Highly abundant smaller juvenile salmon species, such as wild pink salmon, may be a predation buffer for less abundant, larger species, such as juvenile coho salmon (LaCroix et al. 2009; Weitkamp et al. 2011). These findings also stress the need to examine the entire epipelagic community in the context of trophic interactions (Cooney et al. 2001; Sturdevant et al. 2012b) and the importance of comparing ecological communities and processes among salmon production areas (Brodeur et al. 2007; Orsi et al. 2007).

In 2011, SECM sampling was conducted in the northern region of SEAK for the 15th consecutive year to continue annual ecosystem and climate monitoring, to document juvenile salmon abundance in relation to biophysical parameters, and to support models to forecast adult pink salmon returns. This document summarizes data on juvenile salmon, ecologically-related species, and associated biophysical parameters collected by the SECM project in 2011, and contrasts key parameters to the prior 14-yr time series.

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 04/23/2019