A model of meta-population dynamics for North Sea and West of Scotland cod - the dynamic consequences of natal fidelity

Michael R. Heath, Philip A. Kunzlik, Alejandro Gallego, Steven J. Holmes, Peter J. Wright, Scottish Government (Funder)

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It is clear from a variety of data that cod (Gadus morhua) in the North Sea do not constitute a homogeneous population that will rapidly redistribute in response to local variability in exploitation. Hence, local exploitation has the potential to deplete local populations, perhaps to the extent that depensation occurs and recovery is impossible without recolonisation from other areas, with consequent loss of genetic diversity. The oceanographic, biological and behavioural processes which maintain the spatial population structures are only partly understood, and one of the key unknown factors is the extent to which codexhibit homing migrations to natal spawning areas. Here, we describe a model comprising 10 interlinked demes of cod in European waters, each representing groups of fish with a common natal origin. The spawning locations of fish in each deme are governed by a variety of rules concerning oceanographic dispersal, migration behaviour and straying. We describe numerical experiments with the model and comparisons with observations, which lead us to conclude that active homing is probably not necessary to explain some of the population structures of European cod. Separation of some sub-populations is possible through distance and oceanographic processes affecting the dispersal of eggs and larvae. However, other evidence suggests that homing may be a necessary behaviour to explain the structure of other sub-populations. Theconsequences for fisheries management of taking into account spatial population structuring are complicated. For example, recovery or recolonisation strategies require consideration not only of mortality rates in the target area for restoration, but also in the source areas for the recruits which may be far removed depending on the oceanography. The model has an inbuilt capability to address issues concerning the effects of climate change, including temperature change, on spatial patterns of recruitment, development and population structure in cod.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-116
Number of pages24
JournalFisheries Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2008


  • north sea cod
  • migration
  • genetics
  • spatial modelling
  • population structure


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