Early- to late-summer population growth and prey consumption by age-0 pollock (Theragra chalcogramma), in two years of contrasting pollock abundance near the Pribilof Islands, Bering Sea
Acoustic survey data were used to estimate the abundance and distribution of age-0 walleye pollock and zooplankton near the Pribilof Islands, Bering Sea, nursery area at two time periods in two consecutive years: the beginning of August, and mid-September, of 1996 and 1997. The 1996 pollock year class ultimately produced a large adult cohort in the eastern Bering Sea, while the 1997 year class produced a below-average adult cohort. Acoustic densities of age-0 pollock were significantly lower in August – and declined more strongly from August to September – in 1997 than in 1996, indicating that the trend to adult cohort strength was already set by August. Diet composition analyses revealed that age-0 pollock ate a much higher proportion of euphausiids in 1997 than in 1996, despite lower acoustic abundance of euphausiids in 1997. We infer that in 1996, age-0 pollock experienced greater feeding success by August, with high concentrations of copepods available for smaller fish to consume, and high concentrations of euphausiids available for larger individuals. In 1997, age-0 pollock had lower body condition in August and may have been limited by the availability of small (<2 mm) copepods. Bioenergetic modeling of prey consumption did not indicate a likelihood that age-0 pollock would begin to deplete euphausiids until late August in 1996, and not at all between August and mid-September in 1997.