• Describing Forage Fish Availability In Coastal Waters Of The Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska

      Guo, Lei; Wynne, Kate; Foy, Robert; Coyle, Kenneth; Hillgruber, Nicola; Schaufler, Lawrence (2010)
      Assessing the availability of forage fishes is key to understanding fluctuations in populations of apex predators that prey upon them, including pinnipeds and seabirds in the Gulf of Alaska. In this study, multiple aspects of forage fish availability were measured in coastal waters of the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska, in May (2004 & 2005), August (2004 & 2005), November (2006), and April (2007). Efforts were focused on four pelagic species that consistently dominated midwater trawl catches and have been described as important prey for upper trophic level predators around the Archipelago: walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), capelin (Mallotus villosus), and eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus). Fatty acid and stomach content analyses were combined to estimate the diet composition of these forage fishes as a means of identifying the immediate source of energy they transfer to upper trophic level taxa. Values of copepod-originated fatty acids indicated underestimation of dietary copepods by stomach content analysis, which suggests that fatty acid analysis should be used to supplement conventional methodologies in forage fish field studies. Lipid content and fatty acid composition were highly variable within species, suggesting that the use of average values at the species level should be avoided in fine-scale ecological investigations. Mesoscale horizontal distribution and energy density of forage fishes were measured in May and August (2005) to assess the prey fields available to local apex predators over critical periods of their life history. Dense post-spawning aggregations formed seasonal energetic "hotspots", exemplified by herring schools on the northwest side of the Archipelago in May and capelin schools on the northeast side in August. Results presented in this dissertation offer key information needed to identify energetic pathways of significance to upper trophic level consumers in the Kodiak Archipelago. Understanding local trophic interactions and their role in regional apex predator population fluctuations will improve efforts to develop trophodynamic models and ecosystem-based fishery management plans in the North Pacific Ocean.