Growth dynamics of Saffron cod (Eleginus gracilis) and Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) in the Northern Bering and Chukchi Seas

Thomas Helser and Delsa Anderl, NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA, United States
Saffron cod (Eleginus gracilis) and Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida) are two circumpolar gadids that serve as critically important species responsible for energy transfer in Arctic food webs of the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas. To understand the potential effects of sea ice loss and warming temperatures on these species’ basic life history, information such as growth is needed. Yet to date, limited effort has been dedicated to the study of their growth dynamics. Based on a large sample of otoliths collected in the first comprehensive ecosystem integrated survey in the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas, procedures were developed to reliably estimate age from otolith microstructure and were used to study the growth dynamics of saffron and Arctic cod. Saffron cod attained larger asymptotic sizes (L= 363 mm) and achieved their maximum size at a faster rate (K = 0.378) than Arctic cod (L= 209 mm; K = 0.312). For both species, regional differences in growth were found (p<0.01). Saffron cod grew to a significantly larger size at age in the northern Bering Sea when compared to the Chukchi Sea, particularly at younger ages. Arctic cod grew to smaller a asymptotic size but at faster rates in the more northerly central (L= 197 mm; K = 0.324) and southern Chukchi Sea (L= 221 mm; K = 0.297) when compared to the northern Bering Sea (L= 266 mm; K = 0.171), suggesting a possible cline in growth rates with more northerly latitudes. A 30 year retrospective comparison of age data indicate that both species exhibited a decline is maximum size accompanied by higher instantaneous rates growth in more recent years.