Age interpretation in eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) as suggested by otolith microchemical signatures

  • Irina M. BensonEmail author
  • Craig R. Kastelle
  • Thomas E. Helser
  • Jonathan A. Short
  • Delsa M. Anderl


Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are forage fish that play an important role in the ecosystem as prey for many species. Given their continuing population decline, determining accurate ages is necessary for age-structured stock assessments. This study employed microchemistry analysis to identify group differences and help interpret growth zone patterns on otolith surfaces. Specimens were collected off the coast of Oregon, in the coastal areas of Southeast Alaska, and in the southeastern Bering Sea. Laser-ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) was used to measure elemental ratios in the otoliths along a continuous track from the core to the proximoventral margin. Ba:Ca, Sr:Ca, Zn:Ca, and Mg:Ca signatures suggested that eulachon specimens from three geographic regions are different based on their elemental profiles. For the Oregon specimens, fluctuations in Ba:Ca and Zn:Ca signatures appeared consistent with otolith growth zones and most likely were the result of seasonal coastal upwelling events. Variations in Ba:Ca and Zn:Ca were useful as annual markers for eulachon otoliths from the Bering Sea. For the Southeast Alaska specimens, analysis of the Ba:Ca and Zn:Ca oscillations was not straightforward. Further work is needed to understand the link between otolith microchemistry, fish physiology, and regional environmental factors.


Eulachon Otoliths Trace elements Forage fish Microchemistry Age determination 



We express sincere appreciation to everyone whose contributions made this research successful. The ABL staff who collected and processed the Southwestern Alaska samples: JJ Vollenweider and David Clausen collected the samples, Chris Kondzela curated the sample collections, and Wei Cheng and Molly Krehlik extracted the otoliths. ODFW staff who donated Oregon samples and offered advice: Bob Hannah, Josie Thompson, and Lisa Kautzi. Adrian Clarke (UNBC) gave advice during conception of the study. Betty Goetz (AFSC) shared her scientific insight and expertise on otolith ageing. Beth Matta (AFSC) offered advice during the course of this research, including design of the study, elemental data post-processing, and review of the manuscript. Jessica Miller and Andy Ungerer (OSU W.M.Keck Collaboratory) provided assistance with LA-ICPMS analysis. Kimberly Rand, Matt Wilson, and Andy Whitehouse (AFSC) offered their suggestions for the manuscript improvement. The Age and Growth Program staff (AFSC) participated in discussion during various stages of this study. The findings and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA.


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© This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Resource Ecology and Fisheries ManagementAlaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAASeattleUSA

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