Juvenile chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) growth on the central California coast during the 1998 El Niño and 1999 La Niña
We assessed growth in subyearling chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) during the 1998 El Niño and 1999 La Niña in the Gulf of the Farallones, a region of the continental shelf off central California seaward of the Golden Gate and the southernmost ocean entry point for the species in North America. Juvenile salmon demonstrated greater growth during this strong El Niño, when water temperature anomalies of more than +3°C were recorded at local buoys, than during the similarly strong 1999 La Niña. Slopes of regressions of weight on length, length on age, and weight on age were all significantly greater for juvenile salmon during the 1998 El Niño compared with those in the 1999 La Niña. Daily otolith increment widths, an estimator of somatic growth, corroborated population data. Between June 1 and August 9, mean increment widths for juvenile chinook salmon in 1998 were 3.54 ± 0.03 m, significantly larger than the 3.13 ± 0.03 m found in juveniles during the same time interval in 1999. Condition factor for juvenile chinook salmon entering the ocean at the Golden Gate was the same in both years, but became significantly greater in ocean fish during the 1998 El Niño than in ocean fish during the 1999 La Niña. Energy storage was significantly greater in ocean juvenile salmon during the 1998 El Niño as well. Mean triacylglycerol/cholesterol ratios increased following ocean entry in 1998, whereas they declined in ocean juveniles during 1999. Thus, not only was growth better in the El Niño period compared with La Niña, but lipid accumulation was also better. Oceanographic data for 1998 indicated elevated temperatures, lower salinity, greater freshwater outflow from San Francisco Bay, northerly flowing coastal currents, and positive upwelling index anomalies. This combination of environmental factors resulted in greater zooplankton productivity that, in conjunction with higher temperatures, allowed metabolic processes to enhance growth. Although El Niño events have certainly produced large-scale, and often adverse, effects on ecosystems, the results of this study emphasize the importance of local oceanographic conditions to growth and other physiological and ecological processes.