Potential trophodynamic and environmental drivers of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) productivity in the North Pacific Ocean


Atcheson, M.E., Myers, K.W., Davis, N.D., Mantua, N.J.  2012. Potential trophodynamic and environmental drivers of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) productivity in the North Pacific Ocean. Fisheries Oceanography 21(5):321-335, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2419.2012.00627.x.


Information on prey availability, diets, and trophic levels of fish predators and their prey provides a link between physical and biological changes in the ecosystem and subsequent productivity (growth and survival) of fish populations. In this study two long-term data sets on summer diets of steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in international waters of the central North Pacific Ocean (CNP; 1991-2009) and Gulf of Alaska (GOA; 1993-2002) were evaluated to identify potential drivers of steelhead productivity in the North Pacific. Stable isotopes of steelhead muscle tissue were assessed to corroborate the results of stomach content analysis.

We found the composition of steelhead diets varied by ocean age group, region, and year. In both the GOA and CNP, gonatid squid (Berryteuthis anonychus) were the most influential component of steelhead diets, leading to higher prey energy densities and stomach fullness. Stomach contents during an exceptionally warm year in the GOA and CNP (1997) were characterized by high diversity of prey with low energy density, few squid, and a large amount of potentially toxic debris (e.g., plastic). Indicators of good diets (high proportions of squid and high prey energy density) were negatively correlated with abundance of wild populations of eastern Kamchatka pink salmon (O. gorbuscha) in the CNP.

In conclusion, interannual variations in climate, abundance of squid, and density-dependent interactions with highly-abundant stocks of pink salmon were identified as potential key drivers of steelhead productivity in these ecosystems. Additional research in genetic stock identification is needed to link these potential drivers of productivity to individual populations.