• Early marine growth patterns of Situk River steelhead, Oncorhynchus mykiss

      Catterson, Matthew R.; McPhee, Megan; Love, David; Sutton, Trent (2017-08)
      Steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss exhibit complex life-history patterns described by variable freshwater and marine residency periods, maturation patterns, and reproductive characteristics. Over 300 small populations of Steelhead are present in Southeast Alaska, and similar trends in abundance among these populations suggest the influence of population-regulating forces operating on a regional scale. The Situk River, near Yakutat, Alaska, supports the largest known population of Steelhead in Alaska. Stock assessment studies on this river have collected the longest set of biological data and scale samples for Steelhead in the state. For this study, retrospective scale pattern analysis of samples from Situk River Steelhead was synthesized with regional abundance information to investigate patterns in early marine growth among different life-history and demographic groups, as well as to explore linkages between growth, abundance, and marine environmental variables. Positive correlations were identified between freshwater growth, first ocean-year growth, and adult length, while first ocean-year growth was negatively correlated with second ocean-year growth. Early maturing Steelhead were found to have increased first ocean-year growth and reduced adult length relative to later maturing Steelhead, confirming connections between growth and maturation. Correlations in abundance among Southeast Alaska Steelhead populations suggest that marine and climatic drivers may impact these populations in a regionally coherent manner. Correlations among patterns in abundance also varied along a distance gradient: populations located closer to the Situk River were more correlated with the Situk River than more distant populations. Positive relationships between Gulf of Alaska sea surface temperature, North Pacific Gyre Oscillation, and Situk River Steelhead abundance further supported the importance of climate-driven marine conditions to Steelhead productivity. While conservation concerns for Steelhead in Southeast Alaska are currently minimal, proactive investigations into life-history diversity and population linkages may become more relevant with increased marine ecosystem variability related to climate change.