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Spatial and temporal dynamics of Pacific capelin Mallotus catervarius in the Gulf of Alaska: implications for ecosystem-based fisheries management

David W. McGowan*, Esther D. Goldstein, Mayumi L. Arimitsu, Alison L. Deary, Olav Ormseth, Alex De Robertis, John K. Horne, Lauren A. Rogers, Matthew T. Wilson, Kenneth O. Coyle, Kristine Holderied, John F. Piatt, William T. Stockhausen, Stephani Zador

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Pacific capelin Mallotus catervarius are planktivorous, small pelagic fish that serve an intermediate trophic role in marine food webs. Due to the lack of a directed fishery or monitoring of capelin in the Northeast Pacific, there is limited information on their distribution and abundance, and how spatio-temporal fluctuations in capelin density affects their availability as prey. To provide information on life history, spatial patterns, and population dynamics of capelin in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), we modeled distributions of spawning habitat and larval dispersal, and synthesized spatially-indexed data from multiple, independent sources from 1996 to 2016. Potential capelin spawning areas were broadly distributed across the GOA. Models of larval drift show the GOA’s advective circulation patterns disperse capelin larvae over the continental shelf and upper slope, indicating potential connections between spawning areas and observed offshore distributions that are influenced by the location and timing of spawning. Spatial overlap in composite distributions of larval and age-1+ fish was used to identify core areas where capelin consistently occur and concentrate. Capelin primarily occupy shelf waters near the Kodiak Archipelago, and are patchily distributed across the GOA shelf and inshore waters. Interannual variations in abundance along with spatio-temporal differences in density indicates the availability of capelin to predators and monitoring surveys is highly variable in the GOA. We demonstrate that the limitations of individual data series can be compensated for by integrating multiple data sources to monitor fluctuations in distributions and abundance trends of an ecologically important species across a large marine ecosystem.