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Radio tagged wild Atlantic salmon Salmo salar(n = 30) and sea trout Salmo trutta(n = 19) were simultaneously released from a sea pen outside the mouth of the River Lærdalselva and their migration to spawning areas was recorded. The distance from the river mouth to a position held at spawning ranged from 2 to 24 km and did not differ between the species (mean ± s.d. 15·9 ± 4·3 and 14·9 ± 5·2 km for Atlantic salmon and sea trout, respectively). The duration of the migration phase, however, was significantly shorter for Atlantic salmon than for sea trout (8–12 days, respectively). All Atlantic salmon migrated straight to an area near the spawning ground, whereas 50% of the sea trout had a stepwise progression with one or more periods with erratic movements before reaching the spawning area. After the migration phase, a distinct search phase with repeated movements up‐ and downstream at or close to the position held at spawning was identified for the majority of the fishes (75%, both species). This search phase was significantly shorter for Atlantic salmon than for sea trout (mean 13–31 days, respectively). Mean ± s.d. length of the river stretch used during the search phase was larger for sea trout (3·3 ± 2·5 km) than for Atlantic salmon (1·2 ± 0·9 km). A distinct holding phase, with no movements until spawning, was also observed in the majority of the Atlantic salmon (80%, mean duration 22 days) and sea trout (65%, mean duration 12 days). For both species, a weak, non‐significant trend was observed in the relationship between time spent on the migration phase, and time spent on the search (r2 = 0·43) and holding phase (r2 = 0·24). There was a highly significant decrease, however, in the duration of the holding phase with an increase in the time spent on the search phase (r2 = 0·67).