Atlantic salmon return rate increases with smolt length

Author Gregory, S.D., Ibbotson, A.T., Riley, W.D., Nevoux, M., Lauridsen, R.B., Russell, I.C., Britton, J.R., Gillingham, P.K., Simmons, O.M., & Rivot, E.
Citation Gregory, S.D., Ibbotson, A.T., Riley, W.D., Nevoux, M., Lauridsen, R.B., Russell, I.C., Britton, J.R., Gillingham, P.K., Simmons, O.M., & Rivot, E. (2019). Atlantic salmon return rate increases with smolt length. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 76: 1702-1712

Abstract

Recent declines in Atlantic salmon Salmo salar populations are generally attributed to factors in their marine life-phase. However, it is postulated that factors affecting their freshwater life-phase might impact their marine survival, such as the influence of body size. While larger smolts are widely hypothesized to have higher marine survival rates, empirical support remains scant, in part due to inadequate data and ambiguous statistical analyses. Here, we test the influence of smolt body size on marine return rates, a proxy for marine survival, using a 12-year dataset of 3688 smolts tagged with passive integrated transponders in the River Frome, Southern England. State-space models describe the probability of smolts surviving their marine phase to return as 1 sea-winter (1SW) or multi-sea-winter adults as a function of their length, while accounting for imperfect detection and missing data. Models predicted that larger smolts had higher return rates; the most parsimonious model included the effect of length on 1SW return rate. This prediction is concerning, as freshwater juvenile salmon are decreasing in size on the River Frome, and elsewhere. Thus, to maximize adult returns, restoration efforts should focus on freshwater life-stages, and maximize both the number and the size of emigrating smolts.

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