Retrospective growth analysis of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar and implications for abundance trends
Scale archives of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar from Maine, U.S.A., were examined to determine whether ocean conditions affected the long-term trends in S. salar populations in the southern tier of the species' range in North America. To date, scale analyses of southern tier populations have been limited to hatchery fish; previous studies suggest that post-smolt growth does not influence recruitment, with the exception that winter growth may play a role in stock maturation rate. A time series of scales from the Machias and Narraguagus Rivers spanning the years 1946 to 1999 was analysed. Image analysis was used to measure intercirculi spacing, which provided proxy variables of growth rate. Post-smolt growth increment has increased since the early 1990s, as returns have decreased, suggesting that survival factors act on post-smolts independent of growth. The data support the hypothesis of a decoupling between freshwater size and early marine growth. Growth during the second sea winter was independent of post-smolt growth, suggesting that individuals are capable of significant compensatory growth. Southern tier North American stocks exhibit a similar pattern of independence between growth and survival as observed for northern tier North American stocks. These data support the inference that the recruitment of the North American and European subspecies is governed by fundamentally different mechanisms.