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Ecological relevance of temporal stability in regional fish catches

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Abstract

The concept of habitat selection based on ‘Ideal Free Distribution’ theory suggests that areas of high suitability may attract larger quantities of fishes than less suitable or unsuitable areas. Catch data were used from groundfish surveys to identify areas of consistently high densities of whiting Merlangius merlangus, cod Gadus morhua and haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus in the Irish Sea and plaice Pleuronectes platessa, sole Solea solea, lemon sole Microstomus kitt in the English Channel over a period of 10 and 9 years respectively. A method was introduced to delineate areas of the seabed that held consistently high numbers of fishes objectively from large datasets. These areas may constitute important habitat characteristics which may merit further scientific investigations in respect to ‘Essential Fish Habitats’(EFH). In addition, the number of stations with consistently high abundances of fishes and the number of stations where no fishes were caught gave an indication of the site specificity of the fish species analysed. For the gadoids, whiting was found to be less site specific than cod and haddock, while for the flatfishes, plaice and sole were less site specific than lemon sole. The findings are discussed in the context of previously published studies on dietary specializm. The site specificity of demersal fishes has implications for the siting process for marine protected areas as fish species with a strong habitat affinity can be expected to benefit more from such management schemes.

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