Stock Identification Applications of Conventional Tagging Data for Atlantic Cod in the Gulf of Maine
Shelly M. L. Tallack
Abstract.—In the Gulf of Maine region, Atlantic cod Gadus morhua, are managed as three separate stocks: in U.S. waters, the Gulf of Maine (5Y) and Georges Bank (5Z) stocks and in Canadian waters, the Bay of Fundy stock (4X). The Northeast Regional Cod Tagging Program (NRCTP), a large-scale, international collaborative tagging program, was initiated in 2003 and provides the first region-wide, international snapshot of cod movements, mixing, and growth across all three management areas. As the 2008 stock assessment of Atlantic cod was approaching, these mark–recapture data (114,473 tag releases and >6,500 recaptures) were being analyzed for stock identification purposes. Analysis of raw and weighted data indicate exchanges between different areas which are likely related to spawning behavior, maturation, and environmental conditions. Two core assumptions when defining a stock are that (1) the stock is self-sustaining and that (2) neighboring stocks exist in isolation; the migration patterns observed in the current study may substantially violate both assumptions. With additional ongoing assessments into spatial variation in key life history characteristics of growth and natural mortality, the NRCTP exemplifies the role of conventional mark–recapture data in the complex process of stock identification. The geographic scale and quality of data collected during the NRCTP also confirm the value of international, industry-science collaborative research initiatives; involving this data in both stock assessments and future management initiatives is rewarding to the ~250 commercial and recreational fishermen who tagged cod for this program.