Distributional patterns of 0-group Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) in the eastern Bering Sea under variable recruitment and thermal conditions

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Despite the importance of Pacific cod in Bering Sea fisheries and foodwebs, little is known about the habitat use and the distribution of early life stages. We analysed 6 years of catch data for 0-group Pacific cod in fishery-independent surveys of the Bering Sea shelf. Juvenile cod were most commonly captured on the middle shelf over depths of 50–80 m and were rarely captured north of 58°N. Consistently high catches were observed east of the Pribilof Islands and north of Port Moller along the Alaska Peninsula. There was evidence of density-dependent habitat selection at the local scale as the frequency of occurrence increased with regional catch per unit effort. At the basin scale, the southerly distribution of the weak 2009 cohort suggested the possibility of a range contraction for small cohorts. There was no consistent shift in the distribution of juvenile Pacific cod in response to interannual climate variability. These results for Pacific cod contrast with those observed for walleye pollock, which appears to exhibit greater variance in distribution, but are similar to patterns observed for juvenile Atlantic cod. Future work should focus on distribution in nearshore habitats and examine the patterns of dispersal and the connectivity of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska populations.

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