Aleutian Island Assessment - 2021

Ecosystem Assessment (pdf)

Ivonne Ortiz1 and Stephani Zador2

1Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies, University of Washington
2Resource Ecology and Fisheries Management Division, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA


Last updated: October 2021

The Aleutian Islands ecosystem assessment area

The Aleutian Islands ecosystem assessment and Report Card are presented by three ecoregions. The ecoregions were defined based upon evidence of significant ecosystem distinction from the adjacent ecoregions by a team of ecosystem experts in 2011. The team also concluded that developing an assessment of the ecosystem at this regional level would emphasize the variability inherent in this large area, which stretches 1900 km from the Alaska Peninsula in the east to the Commander Islands in the west. For the purposes of this assessment, however, the western boundary is considered the U.S. - Russia maritime boundary at 170°E.

The three Aleutian Islands ecoregions are defined from west to east as follows (Figure 6). The western Aleutian Islands ecoregion spans 170°to 177°E. These are the same boundaries as the North Pacific Fishery Council fishery management area 543. This ecoregion was considered to be distinct from the neighboring region to the east by primarily northward flow of the Alaska Stream through wide and deep passes (Ladd, pers. comm.), with fewer islands relative to the other ecoregions.

The central Aleutian Islands ecoregion spans 177°E to 170°W. This area encompasses the North Pacific Fishery Council fishery management areas 542 and 541. There was consensus among the team that the eastern boundary of this ecoregion occurs at Samalga Pass, which is at 169.5°W, but for easier translation to fishery management area, it was agreed that 170°W was a close approximation. The geometry of the passes between islands differs to the east and west of Samalga Pass (at least until Amchitka Pass). In the central ecoregion the passes are wide, deep and short. The Alaska Stream, a shelf-break current, is the predominant source of water (Figure 5). There is more vertical mixing as well as bidirectional flow in the passes. This delineation also aligns with studies suggesting there is a biological boundary at this point based on differences in chlorophyll, zooplankton, fish, seabirds, and marine mammals (Hunt and Stabeno, 2005).

The eastern Aleutian Islands ecoregion spans 170°W to False Pass at 164°W. The passes in this ecoregion are characteristically narrow, shallow and long, with lateral mixing of water and northward flow. The prominent source is from the Alaska Coastal Current, with a strong freshwater component. This area encompasses the NPFMC fishery management areas 518, 517 (EBS) and the western half of 610 (GOA).


Figure 4: The three Aleutian Islands assessment ecoregions.


Figure 5: Ocean water circulation in the Aleutians. Currents are indicated with black lines. Selected passes are indicated with white lines. Image from Carol Ladd.

Aleutian Islands: Current Conditions 2021

In the Aleutian Islands as a whole, there are large gaps in knowledge about the local physical processes. These gaps are largely due to geographic reality. For example, persistent cloudiness and strong currents preclude obtaining comprehensive satellite-derived data, and strong currents pre- clude the use of various unmanned underwater vehicles. The long distances involved in surveying the island chain make comparing west-east trends in indicators difficult due to time lags during oceanographic surveys across the region. The archipelago is also influenced by different processes in the eastern than in the western Aleutians. Differences in survey timing and longitudinal gradients may also affect detection of biological patterns, as gradients are seldom monotonic in any direction. Integrative biological indicators such as fish or marine mammals abundances may be responding to physical indicators such as temperature, but are less sensitive to timing of when they are surveyed compared with direct measurements of temperature. Also, the extensive nearshore component of the ecosystem is a long, narrow shelf relative to the entire ecosystem, and strong oceanographic inputs mean that some metrics commonly used as ecosystem indicators in other sys- tems may not be as informative in the Aleutians. Therefore, our synthesis of ecosystem indicators by necessity includes speculation. This year was a non-bottom trawl survey year, so all indicators stemming from the survey were last updated in 2018; there was no survey in 2020 due to COVID-19.

This year

This year is characterized by moderate La Niña conditions. Low sea level pressure caused a stormier winter (Figure 8) than the long term average which might have impacted planktivorous seabirds in Unalaska (Figure 28) as it was potentially harder to forage and they might have moved to more sheltered areas. In Spring, westerly winds prevailed, suppressing transport through eastern passes. Slightly stormier conditions than average returned in summer in the western and central Aleutians, which would have created potentially slightly less favorable environmental conditions for foraging (Bond et al., 2011) and thus potentially explaining the delayed hatching for piscivorous seabirds (Figure 25). Record high sea surface temperature in the western and central Aleutians drove a moderate marine heat wave in those areas; temperatures are now close to the long term average. Reproductive success was above the long term average across the chain for both planktivorous and piscivorous seabirds suggesting wide availability of prey (Figure 27). The abundance of Eastern Kamchatka pink salmon was the second highest on record; increased competition for prey and tropic cascades have been shown in years of high abundance of pink salmon (Springer and van Vliet, 2014; Batten et al., 2018; Springer et al., 2018). Lastly, paralytic shellfish toxins were reported to be 75x above the regulatory limit in Unalaska, which continues to pose a risk to human health and food webs in the region. More details on this year’s trends are in the regional highlights section below.

Multi-year patterns

Overall, there seem to be three major drivers of the multi-year patterns observed across the chain:

Ecosystem-wide, several trends and conditions seem to have prevailed since 2013: The continued negative NPGO (Figure 7), sustained sea surface temperature above the mean across the Aleutians (Figure 11), with mid-depth waters also warming since 2013 (Figure 15). Low eddy kinetic energy in the eastern Aleutian Islands (Figure 18), and below average abundance of large diatoms and biomass of meso-zooplankton (Figure 22) have also persisted. Cumulatively, these conditions suggest a lower productivity level across the system with increased bioenergetic needs for fish and faster growth rates for zooplankton. Lower fish condition from 2012 to 2018 was reported in past assessments and, although these data have not been updated, the continued higher temperatures would suggest increased bioenergetic needs for fish and faster growth for zooplankton still persist. The warm temperatures can be attributed in part to slower at-depth processes, with several mech- anisms contributing as well, such as weaker wind/mixing, warmer air temperature, and advection of warm water from the North Pacific Ocean, the relative importance of which is hard to assess without a detailed heat budget analysis. Overall, 2021 is a La Niña year with a negative PDO, few days under marine heatwave conditions, and (newly-estimated) near-average surface chlorophyll concentrations (Figures 7, 12, 19). The result has been near average conditions through much of the year, sustaining the more favorable conditions for the biota observed in 2020 relative to recent years. Overall, sea surface temperature is expected to decrease to average levels through winter 2021 and early spring 2022 (Figure 13).

The high abundance trend of Eastern Kamchatka pink salmon abundance in odd years continues (Figure 23) with this year being second to the record abundance in 2019. The biennial pattern of high abundance in odd years and low abundance in even years continues. However, since 2009, high abundances have doubled and even tripled (315 million adult fish) compared to prior levels of around 100 million fish. Low abundance [even] years have reached the 100 million fish mark in 2016 and 2018 (perhaps related to higher temperatures mentioned above). In 2020, pink salmon abundance decreased to pre-2014 levels, perhaps due to low availability of prey as the large meso-zooplankton negative anomaly would suggest (Figure 22). Several papers report that the pink salmon biennial pattern seems to be cascading through the system by consuming zooplankton which impacts fish growth (Atka mackerel, Matta et al. 2020), and food available for seabirds (Zador et al., 2013; Springer and van Vliet, 2014; Springer et al., 2018). In this assessment, bycatch of all seabirds combined increases in years of high pink salmon abundance and decreases during low pink salmon abundance (Figure 46). However, the impact of pink salmon can be offset by other factors, as in the case of hatch dates for tufted puffins at Buldir Island in the Western Aleutians (Figure 26). Prior to 2017, earlier (later) hatch dates coincided with high (low) abundance of pink salmon; since then the pattern seems to have been disrupted.

Rockfish have replace Atka mackerel and pollock as the main pelagic foragers: The increase of rockfish across the Aleutians has slowly changed the ratio of Atka mackerel/pollock to northern rockfish/Pacific ocean perch, with rockfish now contributing a higher percent of the local biomass across the archipielago and higher percentages in tufted puffin chick meals. Although no survey has been conducted since 2018, stock assessment estimates support rockfish becoming dominant and Atka mackerel declining. Jointly these conditions might lower the availability of Atka mackerel and pollock to other predators such as Pacific cod, whose diet shows little Atka mackerel consumed in NMFS areas 543 ad 542 in 2016 and 2018, but an increase in area 541. It is unclear whether this change in pelagic foragers has contributed to the decline of harbor seals (new this year, Figure 36) and Steller sea lions (reported in last year’s assessment).

Regional Highlights

Western Aleutians

There was some enhanced storminess in the region during summer due to negative sea level anomalies (Figure 8), with record high temperatures in August and September within the satellite sea surface temperature record (Figure 10). These high temperatures lead to a two month long moderate heat wave with a short-lived strong heat wave during peak sea surface temperatures followed by temperatures quickly dropping and returning to near normal by October. This heatwave coin- cided with the start of the spawning season of Atka mackerel when they move to shallower areas and may have raised temperatures close to 10-11°C, the upper limit of the observed temperatures during and after Atka mackerel spawning. Atka mackerel nests are typically found between 32 - 144m depth (Lauth et al., 2008). Eddie kinetic energy was below average, suggesting low fluxes of nutrients, heat and salt trough the passes (Figure 18). Satellite-derived Chlorophyll concentration, often a proxy for phytoplankton biomass, was near average during early spring, and above average in June, particularly north of the western Aleutian islands (Figures 19, 20). It was an exceptionally successful season for fish-eating seabirds (tufted and horned puffins, thick-billed murres), improving from already favorable conditions in 2019, which had been preceded by poor reproductive success.

The reproductive success of fish-eating seabirds and zooplankton-eating seabirds at Buldir Island (Figure 27) suggests a wide variety of prey available. Their long-term average hatch dates fall between mid June to late July (Dragoo et al., 2019), along with average hatching periods of 30 to 42 days, suggest prey were available throughout the summer for chick rearing and potentially commercial groundfish as well. Zooplankton-eating seabirds (auklets) serve as indicators of zooplankton production; their reproductive success was above average during 2019 and again this year, 2021. These species feed their chicks mainly euphausiids and copepods. While the overall timing of breeding for fish-eating seabirds was average or later than average in 2021 (Figure 25), their reproductive success was also above average. Tufted puffins consumed Atka mackerel (14% of diet composition), as did horned puffins (56% diets composition). There was an increase in the proportion of gadids fed; rockfish have also increased in the diets of both tufted (25%) and horned puffins (8%) at Buldir. The increase of rockfish in seabird diets suggests they are more available to seabirds as prey, potentially because they have displaced Atka mackerel and pollock in some areas. Spencer and Ianelli (2020) estimated the area occupied by Pacific ocean perch doubled from 1991 to 2018 based on survey data.

Central Aleutians

There was some enhanced storminess in the region during summer due to negative sea level anoma- lies (Figure 8), with record high temperatures in August and September within the satellite sea surface temperature record (Figure 10). As in the western Aleutians, there was a strong short-lived marine heatwave in September that quickly subsided and sea surface temperatures are currently at average or slightly below average levels. Eddy kinetic energy north of the islands is usually the low- est in magnitude compared to that in the western and eastern Aleutians. Events are characterized either by multiyear or continuous eddies of low intensity in the area, this year was average in the region, meaning there was likely an average flux of nutrients and and heat across the passes. Phytoplankton biomass, as represented by chlorophyll a concentration, was slightly above average offshore from the islands, but slightly below on the south side of the islands during June (Figures 19 and 20).

The area had the highest number of reports of beach-cast dead seabirds, particularly shearwaters in Atka (200 birds, Figure 29, which were just wings and bones, and no complete carcasses. Bycatch estimates of shearwaters seem to be low during low (even) pink salmon abundance years and higher in high (odd) pink salmon abundance years, suggesting increased competition between shearwaters and pink salmon (Figure 32). Weekly mussel collections for PST were taken at Adak, as well as a late-summer single collection of a suite of other species for the Knik Tribe’s monitoring efforts. While results are not available yet, in the past, toxin levels have been within regulatory limits.

Eastern Aleutians

Sea surface temperatures in the eastern Aleutians in 2021 were not as high during August and September as they were in the western and central Aleutians. While they were higher than those observed last year in September, for the most part of the year they have been very similar to last year, and seem to be currently below average (Figure 11). There were only a few days under moderate marine heat wave conditions. Mid-water temperatures also seem to have cooled compared to 2019 and previous years, and are similar to those recorded last year by the longline survey at depths between between 100-300 m. (Figure 15). Winds blowing from the west to the east in the area low flows through Unimak Pass, and eddie kinetic energy - typically driven by intense pulse eddies remained at speeds below average, as has been the case since 2013. Spring phytoplankton biomass, as suggested by chlorophyll concentration was also below average (Figures 19 and 20). The Christmas Bird Count at Unalaska Island using an area and effort-standardized protocol reported unusually low numbers of cormorants, guillemots, murres and even gulls. Last winter was a low pink salmon abundance (Figure 23) year with slightly above average phytoplankton biomass in fall (Figures 19 and 20. The low numbers of wintering seabirds may be due to the increased storminess in the area during winter (Figure 8a).

Fish eating seabirds had mostly high reproductive success, this includes murres and puffins, with gulls having an average year. No auklets (primarily zooplankton eaters) were surveyed in the region. Storm-petrels which feed on a mix of invertebrates and zooplankton had mixed reproductive success; for fork-tailed storm-petrels hatching date was average and they had good reproductive success. In contrast, Leach’s storm-petrels hatched later than average and they had below average reproductive success (Figures 25, 27). There were few reports of dead seabirds (20-50 birds) in Cold Bay and Unalaska (Figure 29). While indicators suggest good availability of forage fish to rear chicks and potentially for fish-eating groundfish, there was no data collected on planktivorous seabirds. It is therefore unclear whether the conditions were as favorable for zooplankton-eating seabirds as for fish eating seabirds. However, the euphausiids in tufted puffins chick meals (34%) suggest zooplankton was available, thus it would be available for planktivorous commercial groundfish.

Weekly shellfish samples are sent from several locations including King Cove, Little Priest Rock and Front Beach to test for toxins. Monitoring of harmful algal blooms indicate that peak toxin levels occurred during June. This year, as in 2020, blue mussels had toxins 75x above the regulatory level (Figure 40. This level is much lower than the one reported on the shellfish that caused a fatality last year (140x above the regulatory level). Public awareness efforts have increased in the area to minimize impacts on human health.

Recap of the Aleutian Islands 2020 Ecosystem State

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most survey and fieldwork was cancelled, so there are no biological indicators updated for 2020. The new information in 2020 is largely from remote-sensing, updated analysis of 2019 data, and local observations. Whenever possible we included data for 2019 as an update from the previous 2018 Aleutian Islands Ecosystem Status Report. Cancelled surveys and data streams include:

  1. AFSC AI 2020 biennial bottom trawl survey, which provides data for:

    1. Aleutian Islands Trawl Survey Water Temperature Analysis
    2. Jellyfish in the Bottom Trawl Survey
    3. Aleutian Islands Groundfish Condition
    4. Distribution of Rockfish Species in the Aleutian Islands
    5. Miscellaneous Species in the Aleutian Islands
    6. Stability of Groundfish Biomass in the Aleutian Islands
    7. Mean Length of the Fish Community in the Aleutian Islands
    8. Mean Lifespan of the Fish Community in the Aleutian Islands
  2. AMNWR seabird monitoring, which provides data for:
    1. Hatching dates at Buldir and Aiktak
    2. Reproductive success at Buldir and Aiktak
    3. Seabird diets—tufted puffin chicks diets
    4. Seabirds die-offs (contribute data to overall dataset)
  3. AFSC Steller sea lion surveys, which provides data for:
    1. Counts of non-pups at rookeries and haul-outs
    2. Counts of pups at rookeries and haul-outs

  4. COASST year-round citizen scientists surveys, which provide data for:
    1. Seabird die-offs
    2. Beached bird relative abundance
  5. Fish and Wildlife Survey periodic sea otter survey that was planned this year.

Most of what we can say about the Aleutians Islands ecosystem is based upon biological trends. There are large gaps in knowledge about the local physical processes and, as a result, their impact on biological processes. These gaps are largely due to geographic reality. For example, persistent cloudiness and strong currents preclude obtaining comprehensive satellite-derived data and the use of various unmanned underwater vehicles. In addition to the sheer distances involved in surveying the island chain that make comparing west-east trends in indicators such as bottom temperature difficult due to difference in timing of oceanographic surveys across the region, the archipelago is also influenced by different processes in the eastern than in the western Aleutians. Differences in survey timing and longitudinal gradients may also affect detection of biological patterns, as gradients are seldom monotonic in any direction. Integrative biological indicators such as fish or sea lion abundances may be responding to physical indicators such as bottom temperature, but are less sensitive to timing of when they are surveyed compared with direct measurements of temperature. Also, the extensive nearshore component of the ecosystem, narrow shelf relative to the entire ecosystem, and strong oceanographic input mean that some metrics commonly used as ecosystem indicators in other systems may not be as informative in the Aleutians. Therefore, our synthesis of ecosystem indicators by necessity includes speculation.

During 2019–2020, the state of the North Pacific atmosphere-ocean system featured the continu- ance of warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the Gulf of Alaska with an almost year-long marine heat wave in 2019 that decreased significantly towards the west, with subsurface warmer temperatures throughout the chain that reached the western Aleutians. Bottom trawl survey tem- peratures from 2019 support model results from the Global Ocean Data Assimilation System that show the persistence of subsurface warmer temperatures in the 100–250 m deep layer that have stayed statistically above the long-term mean. The warm temperatures can be attributed in part to slower at-depth processes. In 2020, the surface temperatures cooled, and climate indices were near average, potentially offering more favorable environmental conditions for biota relative to recent years.

Newly estimated indices show eddies have a distinctly different signature across the island chain, with discrete, strong events characterizing the east and multiple or multi-year but less intense events towards the west. The role of these eddies and how they are processed within the system are yet to be understood, as stocks and overall populations are subject to the dynamics in the east and the west throughout their life cycle. Eddy kinetic energy has remained low since 2013 in the east, and this coincides with the North Pacific Gyre Oscillation more than with the North Pacific Index, which is typically the more characteristic index of the region. Model results suggest moderate increases in the strength of the Alaskan Stream Current increases flow through the eastern passes such as Amukta, while stronger flows carry the current westward, decreasing flows through the eastern passes and increasing them through the wider and deeper passes prevalent in the central and western Aleutians.

With average or close to average climate conditions throughout, 2020 is expected to be a return to more favorable conditions for the biological components of the Aleutian Islands ecosystem.

Biological summary through 2019 In general, warmer temperatures increase bioenergetic costs for ectothermic fish, and all else being equal, prey consumption must increase to maintain fish condition. These increased bioenergetic costs and consumption demands may partly explain why the observed body condition of several commercial groundfish (adult pollock, Pacific cod, northern rockfish and Pacific ocean perch) has been lower than the survey mean since 2012, as last measured by length-weight residuals during the biennial summer bottom trawl survey during 2018. We note however, that for Pacific Ocean perch and northern rockfish, intraspecific competition might be a contributing factor, as their abundance increased and appears to have now stabilized at high biomasses (e.g. Pacific Ocean perch) that now surpass that of Atka mackerel and pollock combined. While Pacific Ocean perch condition has also been lower than the long term mean, it has decreased less than that of the rockfish. The poorer condition of fish, particularly of species such as Atka mackerel and pollock that when small serve as prey for piscivorous seabirds and apex fish predators like Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder, also means that that their quality as prey has decreased, with potential cascading effects on their predators.


Figure 6: Compared indicators before and after 2012, from top to bottom left side: NPGO, summer SST by AI region, CPR, EKE (top WAI, middle CAI, bottom, EAI), right side, Fish Condition.

Warmer temperatures may also impact ontogenesis of Atka mackerel eggs (Lauth et al., 2007). Surface temperature was found to be the most important determinant of egg and larval stage distribution of commercial fish in Alaska based on the distribution models used to define EFH. For many of the commercial groundfish for which the youngest age in the stock assessment is 4 years old or older, effects of this sustained warmer temperature on recruitment will not be immediately apparent.

These generally unfavorable conditions seem to be improving, as seabirds—both plankton and fish-eating species—had earlier to average hatch dates and average to above-average reproductive success in 2019. This seems particularly true for surface-feeding seabirds which have been shown to respond more consistently with changes in their phenology as warmer temperatures bring earlier spring blooms. This flexibilty and higher response to fluctuations in the environment is also coherent with the lower response to variable environmental conditions that is observed in fish and seabirds used to generally more stable processes at depth throughout their lifespan.

In addition to physical drivers, Kamchatka pink salmon (a new indicator this year), with a marked biennial signal in their abundance that peaks in odd years, has been shown to be correlated with copepod abundance, otolith growth in Atka mackerel, planktivorous seabird reproductive success (Batten et al., 2018; Matta et al., 2020; Springer and van Vliet, 2014), and potentially, Pacific ocean perch young of the year. With record abundance in 2019 and an increasing trend over the past decade, their potential for competitive impacts on prey availability for other groundfish and cascading ecosystem effects warrants consideration. This competitive impacts may differ for fish feeding in shallow versus deeper waters as other biological processes may confound physical forcing driven by surface temperatures or may have a lagged effect in deeper waters. While, in general, Kamchatka pink salmon abundance correlates with a lower copepod abundance in off years, 2019 was an exception, as shown by the CPR timeseries which shows an increase in the mean size of the copepod community and its abundance - as supported by the decreased biomass of large diatoms which signals a potential increased predation pressure from copepods. With a potential cascading effect on plankton feeding species and young-of-year fish, this may partly explain the success of fish feeding seabirds in 2019. Understanding the interplay of vertical and horizontal spatial variability in food-web and oceanographic dynamics is particularly relevant given the higher reliance on plankton in the western Aleutians versus more piscivorous and invertivore feeding habits of fish and seabirds towards the eastern Aleutians.

The largest total biomass of both fish apex predators and pelagic foragers is located in the central Aleutians, the ecoregion with the largest shelf area under 500m. The lowest apex predator biomass is located in the western Aleutians whereas that of pelagic foragers is found in the eastern Aleutians. This pattern has been consistent since 1991, though individual species group fluctuations do not necessarily follow the same behavior. Finally, the increase of Pacific Ocean perch biomass and its stable high population, might be driving some spatial dynamics, where it may be encroaching onto other species’ habitats, as seen by the estimated increase in the area occupied shown in the Pacific Ocean perch stock assessment. This increase in abundance and area occupied may be the cause of the increased bycatch of Pacific Ocean perch.

Western Ecoregion In the western ecoregion, the reproductive success of planktivorous auklets, serving as indicators of zooplankton production, was above average during 2019. Both least and crested auklets hatched chicks earlier than the long term average. These species feed their chicks mainly euphausiids and copepods, respectively. Parakeet, whiskered, and crested auklets all had high reproductive success in 2019, while that of least auklets was average. While the overall timing of breeding for fish-eating seabirds was average in 2019, their reproductive success varied. Glaucous-winged gulls and horned puffins had high reproductive success, tufted puffins and thick billed murres had average reproductive success, and common murres failed. There was an increase in the variety of fish brought back to feed tufted puffin chicks. Increased diversity in chick diets may indicate that more favored prey were less available. There was a slight increase in the proportion of gadids fed but lower proportions of hexagrammids (likely age-0) and Ammodytes. It is still unknown whether the high number of hexagrammids seen in 2013 and 2014 possibly indicated high recruitment in Atka mackerel, as their overall abundance has been in decline since 2006. Steller sea lion non-pup counts continue to decline with the lowest estimated numbers yet in 2019. The diet of Steller sea lions consists primarily of commercially fished species, many of which seem to have had poorer body condition in recent years. The declining Steller sea lion trends in both numbers and birth rates are topics of active research, and prey quality may play a role in their lack of recovery.

Central Ecoregion There was a slight increase in Steller sea lions non-pup estimates in 2019, which although small, have been consistent since 2015. School enrollment was slightly higher, pointing perhaps to more stable conditions for families in the area. The increase was driven by both students in Adak and Atka.

Eastern Ecoregion Pollock and Pacific Ocean perch commonly comprise more than half the pelagic foraging fish biomass observed in the bottom trawl survey, and 2019 was no exception. There are almost no northern rockfish in this area, but Pacific Ocean perch has been increasing their spatial extent, as seen by the estimated area occupied in the Pacific Ocean perch stock assessment. All the piscivorous seabirds species monitored for reproductive timing at Aiktak Island in Unimak Pass, hatched chicks early or on average in 2019, signaling favorable foraging conditions in the region. Reproductive success was high for red-faced cormorants, thick-billed murres, and puffins. This is despite the low forage fish availability of sandlance Ammodytes, gadiids and hexagrammids as suggested by the 2019 diets of tufted puffin chicks. Chick-provisioning patterns suggest puffins are responding to changes in forage fish availability. As in the west, the diversity of fish prey in puffin diets increased in 2019, possibly indicating that more favored prey were less available. Planktivorous auklets are not as numerous in the eastern ecoregion as in the central and western ecoregion and are not monitored in the Eastern ecoregion. School enrollment dropped slightly in 2019 compared to 2018, but is still above the long-term mean, possibly indicating more stable conditions for families.