Dolly Varden are widely distributed in the spill area. Adults spawn in natal streams and most overwinter in contiguous freshwater lakes. Migration into the marine environment occurs in the summer where the fish spend time feeding in nearshore waters. Many fish were in freshwater when the oil spill occurred but emigrated in and out of the spill area later in the season. Concentrations of hydrocarbons in the bile of Dolly Varden were some of the highest of any fish sampled in 1989. Like the cutthroat trout, there is evidence from 1989–90 that Dolly Varden, in a small number of oiled index streams in Prince William Sound, grew more slowly than in unoiled streams. It was hypothesized that the slower rate of growth in oiled streams was the result of reduced food supplies or exposure to oil, and there was concern that reduced growth rates would result in reduced survival.
Dolly Varden will have recovered when growth rates within oiled streams are comparable to those in unoiled streams, after taking into account geographic differences.
The growth differences between Dolly Varden in oiled and unoiled streams did not persist into the 1990–91 winter, but no growth data have been gathered since 1991. In addition, by 1990 the concentrations of hydrocarbons in bile had dropped substantially and a biochemical marker of oil exposure had diminished.
In a 1991 restoration study sponsored by the Trustee Council, some tagged Dolly Varden moved considerable distances among streams within Prince William Sound, suggesting that mixing of overwintering stocks takes place during the summer in saltwater. Follow up studies indicate that Dolly Varden are abundant throughout the Sound, and genetically similar among geographically different aggregates. Frequent genetic exchange among groups of fish implies that mixing occurs, and outside populations are available to enhance depleted stocks. Moreover, fishing pressure on Dolly Varden is likely not as intense as that on coastal cutthroat trout. Populations are larger, the fish are more widely spread throughout the Sound and larger numbers can better tolerate harvest. Finally, current exposure to lingering oil is unlikely because most of the bioavailable oil is confined to subsurface intertidal areas and not dissolved in the water column.
Given the available evidence, Dolly Varden are considered to be RECOVERED from effects of the oil spill.
Click HERE for more information on Trustee Council funded studies of dolly varden.