Connectivity of larval cod in the transition area between North Sea and Baltic Sea and potential implications for fisheries management

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Connectivity of pelagic, early life stages via transport by ocean currents may affect survival chances of offspring, recruitment success, and mixing of stocks across management units. Based on drift model studies, transport patterns of particles representing exogenously feeding cod larvae in the transition area between North Sea and Baltic were investigated to (i) determine long-term trends and variability in advective transport of larvae from spawning grounds to juvenile nursery areas, (ii) estimate the degree of exchange between different management areas, and (iii) compare the results with spatial distributions of juvenile cod. The transport of particles showed considerable intra- and interannual variability, but also some general patterns of retention within and dispersion to different management areas. Good spatial overlap of particle end positions, representing potential juvenile settlement areas, with observed distributions of juveniles in bottom trawl surveys suggests that the drift simulations provide reasonable estimates of early life stage connectivity between cod populations in the investigated areas. High exchange rates of particles between management areas of up to ca. 70% suggest that cod populations in the investigated areas are demographically correlated. Results are discussed in relation to their relevance for stock structure, fish stock assessment, and management.

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