Population density and temperature correlate with long-term trends in somatic growth rates and maturation schedules of herring and sprat

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We examine long-term trends in the average growth rates and maturation schedules of herring and sprat populations using survey data collected from the North Sea and west of Scotland since the 1960s and 1980s respectively. Otolith age data and maturity data are used to calculate time series of mean lengths at age, von Bertalanffy growth parameters, and probabilistic maturation reaction norms. As the growth and maturation of fish is known to be influenced by temperature and stock abundances, we account for these variables using GAMs. Each of the herring populations displayed either steady declines in mean length across multiple age groups, or declines in length followed years later by some recovery. Depending on region, lengths at age of sprat increased or decreased over time. Varying temporal trends in maturation propensity at age and length were observed across herring populations. Many of the trends in growth rate and maturation were correlated to population abundance and/or temperature. In general, abundance is shown to be negatively correlated to growth rates in herring and sprat, and positively correlated with maturation propensity in herring. Temperature is also shown to be correlated to growth and maturation, and although the effect is consistent within species, the temperature effects differ between herring and sprat. This study provides detailed information about long-term trends in growth and maturation, which is lacking for some of these pelagic stocks, especially in the west of Scotland.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0212176
Number of pages22
JournalPLOS One
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2019


  • pelagic fish
  • fisheries
  • North Sea
  • West of Scotland
  • growth
  • model

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