• Variation in age and size at maturity of Lake Clark, Alaska sockeye salmon

      Benolkin, Elizabeth B.; Margraf, Joseph; Woody, Carol Ann; Adkison, Milo (2009-12)
      Salmon returning to Lake Clark, Alaska are a valuable subsistence, commercial and ecological resource, and are an important component of the larger Kvichak River escapement. Average escapement to the Kvichak River declined sharply during 1996-2005, prompting studies to investigate age and size at maturity, key life history traits of salmon linked to reproductive success and survival. We examined potential factors which may influence sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka age and size at maturity: spawning habitat and ocean environment, and examined variation in both traits over time. Sockeye salmon age and length at maturity differed among spawning locations and between brood years, but no consistent patterns were observed among habitat types. Age and length at maturity differed over time; the proportion of older marine age 3 fish was larger in recent brood years, while fish were smaller during 1997-2001 compared to 1976-1980. Sea surface temperatures and coastal upwelling appeared to be important indicators of fish length, highlighting the importance of the ocean environment in salmon growth. These results demonstrate the complexity and importance of both the freshwater and ocean ecosystems in variation in age and size at maturity, and indicate that trends may not necessarily be similar among systems or years.