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Using Stable Isotopes to Infer Stock‐specific High‐seas Distribution of Maturing Sockeye Salmon in the North Pacific

Dec 29, 2020


The stock‐specific distribution of maturing salmon in the North Pacific has been a persistent information gap that has prevented us from determining the ocean conditions experienced by individual stocks. This continues to impede understanding of the role of ocean conditions in stock‐specific population dynamics. We assessed scale archives for 17 Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) stocks covering the entire North Pacific, from the Columbia River (Washington State and British Columbia) to Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia), to infer salmon locations during their last growing season before returning to their spawning grounds. The approach used, first pioneered in salmon stocks in the Atlantic, relies on the relationship between temporal changes in δ13N in salmon scales and sea surface temperature to estimate salmon distribution based on correlation strength. An advantage of this approach is that it does not require fish sampling at sea, but relies on existing fishery agency collections of salmon scales. Significant correlations were found for 7 of the stocks allowing us to propose plausible feeding grounds. Complementary information from δ15N, historical tagging studies, and connectivity analysis were used to further refine distribution estimates. This study is a first step toward estimating stock‐specific distributions of salmon in the North Pacific and provides a basis for the application of the approach to other salmon scale archives. This information has the potential to improve our ability to relate stock dynamics to ocean conditions, ultimately enabling improved stock management. For example, our estimated distributions of Bristol Bay and NE Pacific stocks demonstrated that they occupy different areas with a number of the former being distributed in the high productivity shelf waters of the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. This may explain why these stocks seem to have responded differently to changes in ocean conditions, and the long‐term trend of increased productivity of Bristol Bay Sockeye.


Boris Espinasse, Brian Hunt, Bruce Finney, Jeffrey Fryer, Alexander Bugaev, and Evgeny Pakhomov


Espinasse, B., B.P.V. Hunt, B.P. Finney, J.K. Fryer, A.V. Bugaev, E.A. and Pakhomov. 2020. Using stable isotopes to infer stock‐specific high‐seas distribution of maturing sockeye salmon in the North Pacific. Ecology and Evolution 10(23):13555-13570. Online at



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Journal Article