MEPS 196:269-277 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps196269

Egg cannibalism in Baltic sprat Sprattus sprattus

Friedrich W. Köster*, Christian Möllmann

Institute of Marine Sciences, Dept of Fishery Biology, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany

ABSTRACT: Throughout the last 2 decades a shift from a cod- to a sprat-dominated system occurred in the upper trophic levels of the Central Baltic Sea. This was caused by a decline in the cod stock, due to recruitment failure and high fishing intensity, resulting in a decrease in predation pressure on sprat. Concurrently with the lowest cod stock size on record, sprat reached biomass values of above 2 × 106 t in 1992, being relatively stable afterwards. Besides predation mortality through cod and in recent years also an increasing fishing pressure, cannibalism on eggs may be a compensatory process limiting the reproductive success of sprat and hence contributing to the population regulation in the Central Baltic. Based on sprat stomach sampling on 21 cruises between March 1988 and July 1996 cannibalism on sprat eggs was investigated in the Bornholm Basin, one of the main spawning areas of Central Baltic sprat. Using a model of gastric evacuation to estimate daily food intake rates and a Virtual Population/Extended Survivor Analysis for computing predator population sizes, egg cannibalism rates were estimated. These were compared to egg abundance data from ichthyoplankton surveys and to preliminary estimates of seasonal egg productions. The study revealed significant interannual differences in the intensity of sprat egg cannibalism with considerable predation in 1990 to 1992 (>15% of the egg abundance during peak spawning and >60% of the seasonal production) and a reduction in most recent years (<16% of the corresponding abundance and production). As a possible reason for these differences a combination of changes in the vertical overlap of predator/prey and variability in the food environment were identified. Shortcomings of the applied methods and the possible impact of cannibalism on the reproductive success and population development of sprat in the Central Baltic Sea are discussed.

KEY WORDS: Baltic sprat · Egg cannibalism · Population development · Stomach content analysis · Daily food intake

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