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Abstract Here we investigate processes affecting productivity of capelin and walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. We examine pelagic habitat selection by comparing the distribution of juvenile fish and their prey with oceanographic properties and we evaluate the potential for interspecific competition by comparing diets and measures of foraging. The primary field study was conducted in Barnabus Trough, Kodiak Island, Alaska, during September 2005. The distribution of fish was assessed acoustically and trawls were used to collect individual fish for stomach content analyses. Physical and biological data were collected with conductivity–temperature–depth probes and zooplankton tows. Age-0 pollock were distributed in cool waters offshore of a mid-trough front, coincident with the distribution of euphausiids, their preferred prey. In contrast, capelin and their prey (copepods) were distributed throughout the trough. We observed that sympatric capelin (occurring with pollock) often had reduced foraging success compared to allopatric capelin (occurring alone). Results of a bioenergetic model also suggest that the exclusion of capelin from foraging on euphausiids can have negative consequences for capelin growth.