• Ecological interactions among important groundfishes in the Gulf of Alaska

      Barnes, Cheryl L.; Beaudrea, Anne H.; Dorn, Martin W.; Holsman, Kirstin K.; Hunsicker, Mary E.; Mueter, Franz J. (2019-12)
      Complex ecological interactions such as predation and competition play an important role in shaping the structure and function of marine communities. In fact, these processes can have greater impacts than those related to fishing. We assessed ecological interactions among economically important fishes in the Gulf of Alaska - a large marine ecosystem that has recently undergone considerable shifts in community composition. Specifically, we developed an index of predation for Walleye Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) to examine spatiotemporal changes in consumption, quantify portfolio effects, and better understand diversity-stability relationships within the demersal food web. We also evaluated the potential for competition between two important pollock predators, Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias) and Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis). We found highly variable predation intensity on Gulf of Alaska pollock. The combination of a single dominant predator and synchronous consumption dynamics indicated strong top-down control in the region. Spatial heterogeneity, however, may offset trophic instability at the basin scale. Assessments of resource partitioning provided little indication for competition between Arrowtooth Flounder and Pacific Halibut of similar lengths. Morphological differences between the two flatfish predators prompted an exploration into whether our conclusions about resource partitioning were dependent upon the size metric used. From this study, we found a relatively early onset of piscivory for Arrowtooth Flounder. Relationships between predator size and prey size also suggested gape limitation among Pacific Halibut sampled. Trophic niche separation was more pronounced for fishes with larger gapes, indicating greater potential for competition among smaller Arrowtooth Flounder and Pacific Halibut in Southeast Alaska. Reexamining basin-scale relationships between spatial and dietary overlap according to gape size would further elucidate the effects an increasing Arrowtooth Flounder population has had on changes in Pacific Halibut size-at-age. Results from this dissertation improve our understanding about the impacts of complex ecological interactions on population and community dynamics, and how those interactions may change in time, space, and under different environmental conditions.
    • Feeding ecology of larval and juvenile walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) and Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) in the Southeastern Bering Sea

      Strasburger, Wesley Wayne; Hillgruber, Nicola; Pinchuk, Alexei; Mueter, Franz (2012-08)
      Poor recruitment success during warm years (e.g., 2001-2005) was hypothesized to lead to reduced gadid recruitment in the southeastern Bering Sea. These groundfishes are of particular importance, both commercially and ecologically in the southeastern Bering Sea. The spatial and temporal overlap of early life stages of walleye pollock and Pacific cod may explain their strongly correlated recruitment trends in the southeastern Bering Sea. The goal of this study was to compare feeding patterns of larval and juvenile walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) and Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) in the southeastern Bering Sea, and to assess the possibility of prey resource competition. Larvae and juveniles from both species collected between May and September 2008, an exceptionally cold year, were used to analyze stomach contents. Fish body size was most consistently related to diet composition within species, however, spatial and depth factors also had an influence. Feeding success and diet composition of these two gadid species were consistently different throughout the spring, summer, and especially fall seasons. Pacific cod larvae and juveniles consistently consumed larger prey items in every season and progressively fewer prey items, especially in the fall. This data suggests that competition for prey resources was unlikely during cold 2008.
    • The reproductive biology and management of walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) in the Gulf of Alaska

      Williams, Benjamin C.; Kruse, Gordon; Criddle, Keith; Dorn, Martin; Quinn, Terrance II (2018-08)
      Ecosystem-based fishery management (EBFM) entails treating resource allocation and management as elements of a comprehensive framework that accounts for ecological linkages. The goal of EBFM is to maintain ecosystem resiliency in a manner that provides for the services desired e.g., fishery catch, species abundance, economic viability. Historically fisheries have been managed on a per species basis with a general focus on increasing or decreasing harvest rates. This management strategy often excludes meaningful processes such as interactions with other species, environmental changes, and economic effects of management changes. One feasible path for implementation of EBFM is through enhancement of existing single-species fishery management models. Contemporary age-structured stock assessment models generally use an estimate of spawning stock biomass (SSB), i.e., the biomass of female spawning fish, to approximate stock reproductive potential (RP). This approximation inherently assumes a proportional relationship between SSB and RP. Maturity at age or at length is a key aspect of reproductive biology that is central to estimating both RP and SSB. As a sequential augmentation to a single species management model the relationships among body condition, population abundance, the probability of being mature, relative fecundity, and environmental correlates were examined for female walleye pollock Gadus chalcogrammus in the Gulf of Alaska. Maturity data were corrected for spatial sampling bias using a mixed-effects generalized additive model. Once corrected for spatial bias, relationships between maturity, ocean temperature, body condition, ocean productivity (in the form of chlrophyll-a), and population abundance were explored. Estimates of fecundity were updated through the processing of archived samples and were also examined with mixed-effects generalized additive models to explore relationships between the previously listed covariates. Multiple measures of RP were examined to explore differences between methods currently incorporated into the stock assessment and updated measures of total egg production and time varying maturity. Walleye pollock body condition is density-dependent, declining with population abundance. However, after accounting for the effects of length, age, location, year, chlorophyll-a concentrations, summer ocean temperature and sample haul, condition has a positive effect on the probability of a fish being mature. Similarly, condition has a positive effect on relative fecundity, after accounting for length, age, egg diameter, chlorophyll-a concentrations, winter ocean temperature and sample haul. A positive relationship is observed between depth-integrated summer ocean temperature and maturity and depth-integrated winter ocean temperature and fecundity. Chlorophyll-a concentrations have a dome shaped relationship with maturity, peaking at 2.3 mg/m⁻³, and a negative relationship with fecundity. Variations in body condition have a direct influence on the estimated RP of the fish stock through both differences in the maturation schedule and total egg production. Over some periods these updated estimates of RP differ from estimates of female SSB from the annual stock assessment. Alternative estimates of annual RP, particularly total egg production, may provide better estimates of annual reproductive output than spawning stock biomass. In addition, relationships to density-dependent and density-independent factors provide informative predictions that can be incorporated into stock assessment analyses. Inclusion of spatially explicit information for walleye pollock maturity has implications for understanding stock reproductive biology and thus the setting of sustainable harvest rates used to manage this valuable fishery. Additionally, because management decisions have economic as well as biological consequences a suite of management strategies were simulated to examine the economic viability of a proposed small-vessel walleye pollock fishery in Alaska state waters in the Gulf of Alaska. As a case-study for straddling stocks, an agent-based model was developed to examine a suite of available federal and state management strategies as they relate to the economic viability of a nascent Alaska state-waters trawl fishery for walleye pollock that may develop after a long history of parallel state and federal waters management. Results of alternative strategies were compared in terms of indicators, such as variance of catch and quasi-rent value. Given the input characteristics of these simulations, the management strategy that produces the best overall improvements relative to status quo involved a federal-waters management strategy that allows for community-based cooperatives and an open access strategy in state-waters. Agent-based models may be used to inform managers of the underlying dynamics of catches and revenues in order to avoid unintended consequences of management decisions and to improve the likelihood of attaining fishery management objectives. This dissertation provides incremental additions to our knowledge of walleye pollock reproductive biology its spatial and temporal dynamics, and environmental correlates that may serve as ecological indices. These indices, coupled with an improved understanding of the socio-economic examinations of fishery management changes through agent-based modeling, may assist in producing more holistic management strategies, such as EBFM.