MEPS 326:245-256 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps326245

Seasonal variation in groundfish habitat associations in the Gulf of Maine–Georges Bank region

Elizabeth T. Methratta1,2,*, Jason S. Link1

1National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Food Web Dynamics Program, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02540, USA
2Present address: Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, 415 S. University Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA

ABSTRACT: Fish distributions are related to several habitat factors. We explored how the distribution of a 24 species assemblage is related to depth, temperature, substrate, season, and time-block using a 35 yr time series in the Gulf of Maine–Georges Bank region. We examined the relative importance of each factor, how it changes with season, and how individual species shift their relative distribution along environmental gradients on a seasonal basis. Distribution patterns were more strongly related to depth and temperature than to substrate type in both fall and spring. We observed 4 major patterns: (1) some species remained in relatively deep waters in both fall and spring; (2) some remained in relatively shallow habitats in both seasons and experienced wide temperature fluctuations as a result; (3) some moved from warmer shallow areas in the fall to warmer deep areas in the spring; (4) some traveled from the cool deep portion of the region in the fall to the cool shallow portion of the region in the spring. Of the 24 species examined, 19 declined in biomass over the study period in response to exploitation. The relationships between abundance and substrate type previously established for some species at local scales were weak at more synoptic spatial scales, although some trends in substrate associations were observed. Defining habitat at broad spatial scales remains a unique challenge. Compared to temperate systems, more refined habitat delineations for demersal marine fish have been established in tropical coral reef systems. Accordingly, much of our theory and the methodologies for applied spatial management have been derived from tropical systems. Differences between temperate and tropical systems necessitate modified approaches for temperate systems.

KEY WORDS: Demersal fish · Temperate · Grain size · Essential fish habitat · Spatial fisheries management

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