The salmon MALBEC project: A North Pacific-scale study to support salmon conservation planning


Mantua, N.J., Taylor, N.G., Ruggerone, G.T., Myers, K.W., Preikshot, D., Augerot, X., Davis, N.D., Dorner, B., Hilborn, R., Peterman, R.M., Rand, P., Schindler, D., Stanford, J., Walker, R.V., Walters, C.J. The salmon MALBEC project: A North Pacific-scale study to support salmon conservation planning. 2012. To appear in Proceedings of the NPAFC BASIS Symposium.


The Model for Assessing Links Between Ecosystems (MALBEC) is a policy gaming tool with potential to explore the impacts of climate change, harvest policies, hatchery policies, and freshwater habitat capacity changes on salmon at the North Pacific scale. This article provides background information on the MALBEC project, methods, input data, and preliminary results pertaining to (1) hatchery versus wild salmon production in the North Pacific Ocean, (2) rearing, movement, and interactions among Pacific salmon populations in marine environments, (3) marine carrying capacities, density-dependent growth, and survival in Pacific salmon stocks, and (4) climate impacts on productivity in salmon habitat domains across the North Pacific. The basic modeling strategy underlying MALBEC follows the full life cycle of salmon and allows for density-dependence at multiple life stages, and it includes spatially explicit ecosystem considerations for both freshwater and marine habitat. The model is supported by a data base including annual run sizes, catches, spawning escapements, and hatchery releases for 146 regional stock groups of hatchery and wild pink, chum, and sockeye salmon around the North Pa-cific for the period 1952–2006. For this historical period, various hypotheses about density-dependent interactions in the marine environment are evaluated based on the goodness-of-fit between simulated and observed annual run sizes. Based on the information we used to inform our ocean migration table, interactions among stocks that originate from geographically distant regions are greatest in the Bering Sea in summer–fall and in the eastern sub-Arctic in winter–spring. While the model does not reproduce the observed data for some specific stock groups, it does predict the same overall production pattern that was observed by reconstructing run sizes with catch and escapement data alone. Our preliminary results indicate that simulations that include density-dependent interactions in the ocean yield better fits to the observed run-size data than those simulations without density-dependent interactions in the ocean. This suggests that for any level of ocean productivity, the ocean will only support a certain biomass of fish but that this biomass could consist of different combinations of stocks, stock numbers and individual fish sizes. MALBEC simulations illustrate this point by showing that under scenarios of Pacific-wide re-duced hatchery production, the total number of wild Alaskan chum salmon increases, and that such increases are large where density-dependent effects on survival are large and small where they are not. Under scenarios with reduced freshwater carrying capacities for wild stocks, the impacts of density-dependent interactions also lead to relative increases in ocean survival and growth rates for stocks using ocean habitats where density-dependence is large.