Changes over time in the spatial distribution of walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) in the Gulf of Alaska, 1984-1996


Shima, Michiyo, Anne Babcock Hollowed, and Glenn R. VanBlaricom
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Triennial bottom trawl survey data from 1984 to 1996 were used to evaluate changes in the summer distribution of walleye pollock in the western and central Gulf of Alaska. Differences between several age groups of pollock were evaluated. Distribution was examined in relation to several physical characteristics, including bottom depth and distance from land. Interspecies associations were also analyzed with the Bray-Curtis clustering technique to better understand community structure. Our results indicated that although the population numbers decreased, high concentrations of pollock remained in the same areas during 1984–96. However, there was an increase in the number of stations where low-density pollock concentrations of all ages were observed, which resulted in a decrease in mean population density of pollock within the GOA region. Patterns emerging from our data suggested an alternative to MacCall’s “basin hypothesis” which states that as population numbers decrease, there should be a contraction of the population range to optimal habitats. During 1984–96 there was a concurrent precipitous decline in Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska. The results of our study suggest that decreases in the mean density of adult pollock, the main food in the Steller sea lion diet, combined with slight changes in the distribution of pollock (age-1 pollock in particular) in the mid-1980s, may have contributed to decreased foraging efficiency in Steller sea lions. Our results support the prevailing conceptual model for pollock ontogeny, although there is evidence that substantial spawning may also occur outside of Shelikof Strait.