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Assessing the potential for competition between Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) and Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias) in the Gulf of Alaska
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    Assessing the potential for competition between Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) and Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias) in the Gulf of Alaska
  • Description:
    Pacific Halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) support culturally and economically important fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, though recent decreases in mean size-at-age have substantially reduced fishery yields, generating concerns among stakeholders and resource managers. Among the prevailing hypotheses for reduced size-at-age is intensified competition with Arrowtooth Flounder (Atheresthes stomias), a groundfish predator that exhibited nearly fivefold increases in biomass between the 1960s and mid-2010s. To assess the potential for competition between Pacific Halibut and Arrowtooth Flounder, we evaluated their degree of spatiotemporal and dietary overlap in the Gulf of Alaska using bottom trawl survey and food habits data provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (NOAA; 1990 to 2017). We restricted analyses to fish measuring 30 to 69 cm fork length and used a delta modeling approach to quantify species-specific presence-absence and catch-per-unit-effort as a function of survey year, tow location, depth, and bottom temperature. We then calculated an index of spatial overlap across a uniform grid by multiplying standardized predictions of species' abundance. Dietary overlap was calculated across the same uniform grid using Schoener's similarity index. Finally, we assessed the relationship between spatial and dietary overlap as a measure of resource partitioning. We found increases in spatial overlap, moving from east to west in the Gulf of Alaska (eastern: 0.13 +/- 0.20; central: 0.21 +/- 0.11; western: 0.31 +/- 0.13 SD). Dietary overlap was low throughout the study area (0.13 +/- 0.20 SD). There was no correlation between spatial and dietary overlap, suggesting an absence of resource partitioning along the niche dimensions examined. This finding provides little indication that competition with Arrowtooth Flounder was responsible for changes in Pacific Halibut alHHsize-at-age in the Gulf of Alaska; however, it does not rule out competitive interactions that may have affected resource use prior to standardized data collection or at different spatiotemporal scales.
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