Integrating seabird dietary and groundfish stock assessment data: Can puffins predict pollock spawning stock biomass in the North Pacific?

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Abstract

Information on the annual variability in abundance and growth of juvenile groundfish can be useful for predicting fisheries stocks, but is often poorly known owing to difficulties in sampling fish in their first year of life. In the Western Gulf of Alaska (WGoA) and Eastern Bering Sea (EBS) ecosystems, three species of puffin (tufted and horned puffin, Fratercula cirrhata, Fratercula corniculata, and rhinoceros auklet, Cerorhinca monocerata, Alcidae), regularly prey upon (i.e., “sample”) age-0 groundfish, including walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogramma, Gadidae) and Pacific cod (Gadus microcephalus, Gadidae). Here, we test the hypothesis that integrating puffin dietary data with walleye pollock stock assessment data provides information useful for fisheries management, including indices of interannual variation in age-0 abundance and growth. To test this hypothesis, we conducted cross-correlation and regression analyses of puffin-based indices and spawning stock biomass (SSB) for the WGoA and EBS walleye pollock stocks. For the WGoA, SSB leads the abundance of age-0 fish in the puffin diet, indicating that puffins sample the downstream production of the WGoA spawning stock. By contrast, the abundance and growth of age-0 fish sampled by puffins lead SSB for the EBS stock by 1–3 years, indicating that the puffin diet proxies incoming year class strength for this stock. Our study indicates connectivity between the WGoA and EBS walleye pollock stocks. Integration of non-traditional data sources, such as seabird diet data, with stock assessment data appears useful to inform information gaps important for managing US fisheries in the North Pacific.

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Sydeman, W. J., Thompson, S. A., Piatt, J. F., Zador, S. G., & Dorn, M. W. (2021). Integrating seabird dietary and groundfish stock assessment data: Can puffins predict pollock spawning stock biomass in the North Pacific? Fish and Fisheries. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12611

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