The importance of length and age composition data in statistical age-structured models for marine species

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Management of marine resources depends on the assessment of stock status in relation to established reference points. However, many factors contribute to uncertainty in stock assessment outcomes, including data type and availability, life history, and exploitation history. A simulation-estimation framework was used to examine the level of bias and accuracy in assessment model estimates related to the quality and quantity of length and age composition data across three life-history types (cod-, flatfish-, and sardine-like species) and three fishing scenarios. All models were implemented in Stock Synthesis, a statistical age-structured stock assessment framework. In general, the value of age composition data in informing estimates of virgin recruitment (R0), relative spawning-stock biomass (SSB100/SSB0), and terminal year fishing mortality rate (F100), decreased as the coefficient of variation of the relationship between length and age became greater. For this reason, length data were more informative than age data for the cod and sardine life histories in this study, whereas both sources of information were important for the flatfish life history. Historical composition data were more important for short-lived, fast-growing species such as sardine. Infrequent survey sampling covering a longer period was more informative than frequent surveys covering a shorter period.

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