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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 199:255-262 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/meps199255

Exceptionally strong year classes in plaice Pleuronectes platessa: are they generated during the pelagic stage only, or also in the juvenile stage?

Henk W. van der Veer1,*, Audrey J. Geffen2, Johannes IJ. Witte1

1Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg Texel, The Netherlands
2Port Erin Marine Laboratory, University of Liverpool, Isle of Man IM9 6JA, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: The exceptionally strong 1996 year class of plaice Pleuronectes platessa L. at the Balgzand in the western Dutch Wadden Sea offered the opportunity to study whether such a strong year class is generated and determined only during the pelagic stage, or also in the juvenile stage. This was done by comparing the 1996 year class with other years (1993 to 1999), including a weak year class (1995). Larval immigration in 1996 was delayed by about 1 mo, compared to 1995. A significant relationship existed between reconstructed water temperature during developmental drift and the abundance of settling larvae. Estimation of the hatch date distribution of the larvae by means of otolith microstructure analysis showed that in 1996 the settling flatfish mainly originated from eggs hatched in February and March, while in the weak 1995 year class the larvae originated from eggs hatched in January and February. Mortality during the first months after settlement was density-dependent; however, in 1996 this relationship broke down and mortality was much lower than expected. After the severe winter of 1995-96, predatory crustaceans were absent in the nursery and as a consequence the already extremely strong year class of 1996 passed through this period of mortality relatively unharmed. These results confirmed earlier observations that when an extremely strong year class is generated after a very cold winter, the regulative mechanism of density-dependent predation in the nursery‹which normally dampens interannual variability in abundance‹may fail due to low abundance of predatory crustaceans.

KEY WORDS: Pleuronectes platessa · Cold winter · Control · Flatfish · Hydrography · Otolith microstructure · Regulation · Temperature · Year-class strength

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