The North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar: the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ hypothesis


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One model for marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar proposes that North American and southern European stocks (<62° N) move directly to feeding grounds off west Greenland, then overwinter in the Labrador Sea, whereas northern European stocks (>62° N) utilize the Norwegian Sea. An alternate model proposes that both North American and European stocks migrate in the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre (NASpG) where S. salar enter the NASpG on their respective sides of the Atlantic, and travel counterclockwise within the NASpG until returning to natal rivers. A review of data accumulated during the last 50 years suggests a gyre model is most probable. Freshwater parr metamorphose into smolts which have morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations of epipelagic, marine fishes. Former high-seas fisheries were seasonally sequential and moved in the direction of NASpG currents, and catches were highest along the main axis of the NASpG. Marking and discrimination studies indicate mixed continental origin feeding aggregations on both sides of the Atlantic. Marked North American smolts were captured off Norway, the Faroe Islands, east and west Greenland, and adults tagged at the Faroes were recovered in Canadian rivers. Marked European smolts were recovered off Newfoundland and Labrador, west and east Greenland, and adults tagged in the Labrador Sea were captured in European rivers. High Caesium-137 (137Cs) levels in S. salar returning to a Quebec river suggested 62·3% had fed at or east of Iceland, whereas levels in 1 sea-winter (SW) Atlantic Canada returnees indicated 24·7% had fed east of the Faroes. Lower levels of 137Cs in returning 1SW Irish fish suggest much of their growth occurred in the western Atlantic. These data suggest marine migration of S. salar follows a gyre model and is similar to other open-ocean migrations of epipelagic fishes.