This past summer (2019) I worked with Dr. Paul Chittaro, a research fish biologist in the Environmental and Fisheries Sciences Division at NOAA’s Northwest Fishery Science Center. Specifically, I worked on a project that focused on the latitudinal and annual patterns of somatic growth for Pacific Hake, an important forage fish species, collected along the U.S. Pacific coast. The likelihood of an organism’s survival to reproductive age is largely determined by the environmental conditions and resource availability at various life history stages. Furthermore, survival is positively correlated with performance, and understanding how environmental conditions affect an individual can provide insight on what shapes population density and fishing sustainability. A common indicator of individual performance is somatic growth rate, and therefore measuring growth rate is a direct method of determining performance. Somatic growth rate is heavily dependent on resource quality/ availability, including food abundance/quality, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, competition, and predation. Luckily, the somatic growth of an individual fish can be reconstructed using the visible increments in their otolith, the ear bone.
The objective of this project was to understand how otolith derived estimates of somatic growth rate from Pacific Hake vary with respect to several environmental factors. The fish were collected in 2015, 2016, and 2017 along the Pacific coast. I was responsible for conducting age analysis and collating environmental and biological data. From there I used R, an important statistical software, to develop generalized linear models to predict which environmental factors best predicted growth rate of Pacific Hake.
I did more than just work in the lab, though my time in the lab was amazing! I took multiple trips with Dr. Chittaro and other NWFSC staff out into the field, and by field, I mean the Puget Sound, to collect specimens that will be used in future projects. Additionally, I attended seminars through the JISAO program and at the NWFSC and did valuable science outreach in the Seattle area.