Timing is everything: Fishing-season placement may represent the most important angling-induced evolutionary pressure on Atlantic salmon populations
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Fisheries-induced evolution can change the trajectory of wild fish populations by selectively targeting certain phenotypes. For important fish species like Atlantic salmon, this could have large implications for their conservation and management. Most salmon rivers are managed by specifying an angling season of predetermined length based on population demography, which is typically established from catch statistics. Given the circularity of using catch statistics to estimate demographic parameters, it may be difficult to quantify the selective nature of angling and its evolutionary impact. In the River Etne in Norway, a recently installed trap permits daily sampling of fish entering the river, some of which are subsequently captured by anglers upstream. Here, we used 31 microsatellites to establish an individual DNA profile for salmon entering the trap, and for many of those subsequently captured by anglers. These data permitted us to investigate time of rod capture relative to river entry, potential body size-selective harvest, and environmental variables associated with river entry. Larger, older fish entered the river earlier than smaller, younger fish of both sexes, and larger, older females were more abundant than males and vice versa. There was good agreement between the sizes of fish harvested by angling, and the size distribution of the population sampled on the trap. These results demonstrate that at least in this river, and with the current timing of the season, the angling catch reflects the population's demographics and there is no evidence of size-selective harvest. We also demonstrated that the probability of being caught by angling declines quickly after river entry. Collectively, these data indicate that that the timing of the fishing season, in relation to the upstream migration patterns of the different demographics of the population, likely represents the most significant directional evolutionary force imposed by angling.