Although early marine growth has repeatedly been correlated with overall survival in Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp., we currently lack a mechanistic understanding of smolt-to-adult survival. Smolt-to-adult survival of pink salmon O. gorbuscha returning to Prince William Sound was lower than average for juveniles that entered marine waters in 2001 and 2003 (3% in both years), and high for those that entered the ocean in 2002 (9%) and 2004 (8%). We used circulus patterns from scales to determine how the early marine growth of juvenile pink salmon differed (1) seasonally during May-October, the period hypothesized to be critical for survival; (2) between years of low and high survival; and (3) between hatchery and wild fish. Juvenile pink salmon exhibited larger average size, migrated onto the continental shelf and out of the sampling area more quickly, and survived better during 2002 and 2004 than during 2001 and 2003. Pink salmon were consistently larger throughout the summer and early fall during 2002 and 2004 than during 2001 and 2003, indicating that larger, faster-growing juveniles experienced higher survival. Wild juvenile pink salmon were larger than hatchery fish during low-survival years, but no difference was observed during high-survival years. Differences in size among years were determined by some combination of growing conditions and early mortality, the strength of which could vary significantly among years. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2008.
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Early marine growth of pink salmon in Prince William Sound and the coastal gulf of Alaska during years of low and high survival