MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13029

Fish population growth in the Gulf of St Lawrence: the effect of climate, fishing and predator abundance

Pablo Brosset*, Joël M. Durant, Elisabeth Van Beveren, Stéphane Plourde

*Email: pablo.brosset@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Climate variability, fishing and predation are the main factors affecting fish population dynamics. In this study, the drivers of population growth variability were investigated for seven fish stocks (2 cod, 4 herring and 1 mackerel stock) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (NW Atlantic). The annual population growth sensitivity to both recruitment and survival (how much population growth depends on recruitment and survival) was estimated through elasticity analyses before being linked to harvesting history as well as environmental conditions (climate and predation). Stock-specific generalized additive models showed that population growth was most sensitive to recruitment variability with decreasing fish generation time, increasing water temperature and, in some cases, with predation. The dependence of population growth on recruitment, however, was generally close to 0, albeit being higher for pelagic stocks than for demersal ones. This indicates that adult survival was more important than recruitment in shaping population growth and thus population size. As climate mainly acts on recruitment while fishing affects adult survival, management efforts seemed more important than climate variability in regulating population growth, especially for long-lived cod. Nevertheless, population growth may become increasingly dependent on recruitment variability with warming waters, hence, why more flexible management strategies should be developed to cope with these oscillations.