Factors affecting overwinter mortality and early marine growth in the first ocean year of juvenile Chinook salmon in Quatsino Sound, British Columbia




Middleton, Katherine Rose

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Evidence suggests that the variability in recruitment of adult Pacific salmon is related to smolt survival during the first ocean year. Specifically, the first few weeks and first marine winter may be two critical periods of high mortality during early marine life. Mortality during early marine residency has been attributed to predation and size-dependent factors while high mortality during the first winter may be due to energy deficits and failure to reach a certain size by the end of the growing season. My study assessed factors influencing overwinter mortality and early marine growth in juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) from Marble River, Quatsino Sound, British Columbia. Juvenile salmon were collected during November 2005 and 2006 (fall) and March 2006 and 2007(winter). Mortality rates over the first winter derived from catch per unit effort across seasons ranged between 80-90% in all years. These are the first estimations of overwinter mortality in juvenile Pacific salmon. Fish size distributions showed no evidence of size-selective overwinter mortality between fall and winter fish in either 2005-2006 or 2006-2007. Otolith microstructure analyses showed no significant difference in circulus increment widths during the first four weeks after marine entry. Similarities in increment width indicated that early marine growth did not differ between fall and winter fish during early marine residency in 2006. These observations show that the high overwinter mortality rates of juvenile Chinook salmon in Quatsino Sound are not size-dependent. Total plankton biomass was significantly lower in the winter season but size distribution, gut fullness and energy density data did not show evidence of starvation. No correlation was found between early marine growth, size, energy accumulation and high mortality in Marble River juvenile Chinook salmon during their first ocean winter in Quatsino Sound. Possible factors influencing these high mortality rates may include non size-selective predation, disease, local environmental influences or an as yet unknown source. Future work should continue to focus on understanding the relationship between early marine survival and adult recruitment. The expansion of growth comparisons geographically and chronologically while determining the effects of predatory mortality on juvenile Chinook salmon along the north Pacific continental shelf and beyond are imperative to fully understanding this complex marine life stage.



salmon, growth, survival, Pacific Ocean, energy density, size selective mortality