Shelton, Andrew O.; Hutchings, Jeffrey A.; Waples, Robin S.; Keith, David A.; Akçakaya, H. Resit; Dulvy, Nick. 2015. Maternal age effects on Atlantic cod recruitment and implications for future population trajectories. ICES Journal of Marine Science. Vol: 76(6). Pages 1769-1778. (Abstract) (Online version)
Exploited fish populations frequently exhibit truncated age-structure. To address a basic question in fisheries science and conservation biologyâ€”how does age truncation affect population dynamics and productivity?â€”we explored the effect of age-structure on recruitment dynamics of ten stocks of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). Based on six alternative stockâ€“recruitment relationships, we compared models that included and excluded maternal age-structure effects on recruitment. In all ten stocks, a recruitment model that included a maternal age-dependent effect was preferred over the standard Ricker model and in seven of the ten stocks, the preferred statistical model included a positive effect of either maternal age or mass on recruitment. Simulations comparing standard and maternal age dependent recruitment two decades into the future suggest that the inclusion of maternal age in recruitment models has little effect on projected biomasses. However, this similarity in biomass trajectory masked an increased sensitivity of populations with maternal age-dependent recruitment to stock age-structure. In particular, simulations with maternal age-dependent recruitment responded strongly to changes in fishing mortality on the oldest age classes, while simulations using standard recruitment models did not. Populations with maternal age-dependent recruitment can exhibit increased biomass catch even if fishing mortality on older individuals was reduced. Overall, simulations suggested that the influence of maternal age on population dynamics are more nuanced than suggested by previous research and indicate that careful consideration of the effects of age-structure on populations may lead to substantially different fisheries management reference pointsâ€”particularly with respect to age-specific fishing mortalityâ€”than classical models. While these results suggest a link between maternal age and population productivity, future research requires the incorporation of biologically reasonable and empirically defensible mechanisms to clarify the effect of age on population dynamics.