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Understanding Atlantic salmon in the ocean ecosystem

Aug 21, 2011
Summer 2011

Gulf of Maine Atlantic salmon has been on the endangered species list for ten years. The population has shown little sign of recovery despite intensive conservation and restoration efforts. After spending two to three years in the ocean, adult salmon return to spawn in their natal freshwater streams, where eggs hatch and juveniles grow through several stages. They then migrate downstream to the ocean. Much of the research to date has focused on salmon in its freshwater life stages. The University of Maine and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute are partnering to study salmon growth and survival after entry into the ocean.

John Kocik of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said: "Atlantic salmon restoration is being hindered in North America by historic low marine survival rates. Understanding the causes of changes in marine survival and the functioning of ocean ecosystems from a salmon perspective are essential to recovery."

Postdoctoral Research Associates Carrie Byron and Kathy Mills are studying factors and conditions that may impact salmon growth and survival, such as water temperature, salinity, currents, predators, and availability of food at different life history stages.

Kathy reflected: "We're looking at salmon as a reflection of the larger ecosystem to understand how it may be changing. It's fascinating to figure out how the pieces are interacting to shape the ecosystem."