Poor feeding opportunities and reduced condition factor for salmon post-smolts in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionICES Journal of Marine Science. 2021, 1-14. 10.1093/icesjms/fsab163
During the last few decades, many wild Atlantic salmon populations have declined dramatically. One possible contributing factor for the decline is reduced prey availability at sea. Here, we examine post-smolt diet and investigate if post-smolts show signs of selective feeding based on 2546 post-smolts sampled from west of Ireland to the northern Norwegian Sea over a 25-year period. We also test for changes over time in stomach fullness, diet, condition factor and body length. There was a clear reduction in condition factor for post-smolts sampled in the Norwegian Sea in the period 2003–2012. The post-smolt stomach fullness was also reduced in the same period. The reduction in condition factor is partly explained by reduced stomach fullness, including a reduction of highly energetic fish larvae and Amphipoda in the diet. Feeding on other prey, such as meso-zooplankton and insects, cannot substitute the high-quality fish larvae and Amphipoda in the post-smolt diet. This is the first study to document how salmon post-smolts feeding in the Norwegian Sea are affected by reduced feeding conditions. Possible causes for the observed changes in post-smolt feeding are ocean warming, decreased primary productivity, and reduced recruitment of important fish larvae.