Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Effects of ocean climate on the length and condition of forage fish in the Gulf of Alaska

October 1, 2019

Climatic drivers of the size and body condition of forage fish in the North Pacific are poorly known. We hypothesized that length and condition of forage fish in the Gulf of Alaska (GoA) should vary in relation to ocean temperature on multiple scales. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed morphometric data for capelin (Mallotus catervarius) and Pacific sand lance (PSL; Ammodytes personatus) sampled by a seabird (Cerorhinca monocerata) in two regions of the GoA, 1993–2016. Based on previous studies, we predicted specifically that capelin length and body condition (Fulton’s K) would be negatively related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and sea surface temperature (SST), whereas PSL length and condition would be positively related. Interannual variation in length and body condition was evaluated relative to seasonal values of ocean climate using regression. Forage fish length and condition varied interannually, between sampling regions, and were dependent on the size/age class of the fish sampled. As predicted, length and body condition of capelin (mostly age 1+) were negatively related to the PDO and SST. Relationships with ocean climate for PSL varied by size/age class: positive for putative age-0 fish and negative for putative age-1+ fish. We conclude that our hypothesis was supported for capelin and partially supported for PSL. This study demonstrates that ocean climate determines key morphometric characteristics of forage fish that may relate to interannual variation in the energetic value of prey, and provides an example of how seabirds can be used to obtain specimens for evaluations of potential prey quality.