Solås, M. R., Skoglund, H., Salvanes, A. G. V. 2019. Can structural enrichment reduce predation mortality and increase recaptures of hatchery-reared Atlantic salmon Salmo salar L. fry released into the wild? Journal of Fish Biology 95(2), 575-588.
Captive-reared fish often have poor survival in the wild and may fail to boost threatened populations. Enrichment during the nursery period can in some circumstances generate a broader behavioural repertoire than conventional hatchery production. Yet, we do not know if enrichment promotes survival after release into the wild. We conducted a field experiment during three field seasons using age 0+ year Atlantic salmon Salmo salar to investigate if enrichment during rearing, in the form of structural complexity (shelters), reduced immediate (within 2 days after release) predation mortality by piscine predators (brown trout Salmo trutta) and if such rearing environments improved long-term (2-3 months after release) post-release survival. In addition, we investigated if predation mortality of released fry was size-selective. S. salar fry were reared in a structurally enriched environment or in a conventional rearing environment and given otolith marks using alizarin during the egg stage to distinguish between enriched and conventionally-reared fry. The outcome from the field experiments showed that structural enrichment did not consistently reduce immediate predation mortality and it did not improve, or had a negative effect on, the recapture rate of fry from the river 2-3 months after release. The data also showed that enriched rearing tended to reduce growth. Additionally, we found that S. trutta predators fed on small individuals of the released fry. Overall, the data suggest that structural enrichment alone is not sufficient to improve long-term survival of hatchery-reared fish after release and that other factors might affect post-release survival.