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Salmon, forage fish, and kelp

June 1, 2019

Kelp beds are prominent features of northeast Pacific coastlines. They are seasonal in nature, as are the communities that use them. Here, juvenile and adult Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) – key components of northeast Pacific marine food webs that link plankton and forage fishes to endangered killer whales – have just arrived at the coastal kelp beds (left) and are feeding on the large schools of forage fish such as young‐of‐the‐year herring, which are also migrating in great numbers near the shore. Juvenile herring and smelt will soon move offshore to grow and feed, and finally return as adults to spawn along shorelines.

Rapid growth is critical to the survival of young salmon. They quickly learn to work together to herd the small, skittish prey into tight groups. The kelp beds play an important role for both the salmon and their prey, providing refuge for feeding salmon and enhanced prey resources for hungry forage fish, which in turn feed incessantly at the surface of the kelp beds, except when they are disrupted by lightning‐fast attacks by marauding salmon. By October, much of the kelp will be gone, as will the juvenile salmon and forage fish, replaced by their adult congeners (right) that have traveled for years and hundreds of miles to continue the cycle.

Globally, kelp forests are in flux. Disturbances, including those induced by climate change, may have serious implications not only for this critical nearshore phase of salmon and forage fish, but also for the future viability of our cold‐water northeast Pacific marine ecosystems.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Salmon, forage fish, and kelp
DOI 10.1002/fee.2056
Authors Anne Shaffer, Dave Parks, Erik R. Schoen, David Beauchamp
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Series Number
Index ID 70204562
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center