• DST;
  • metapopulations;
  • otolith elemental composition;
  • stock;
  • tag-recapture

The scale of population structuring in cod Gadus morhua from the west of Scotland (ICES stock area VIa) and northern North Sea was investigated using a combination of non-genetic methods. Site fidelity of spawning aggregations was examined using historic tag-recapture experiments and individual geolocation estimates from data storage tagged fish. The extent of movements from spawning areas indicated by these two tagging approaches was broadly similar. Between 67 and 97% of adult cod remained within 100 km of spawning areas throughout the year, suggesting resident spawning groups. A small proportion of cod, however, did appear to stray between spawning areas. A comparison of the elemental signature of the otoliths of 0 year-group and the 0 year-group component from the same year-class at age 2 years indicated that most adults originate from local nursery areas. Moreover, there did not appear to be detectable exchange between spawning areas >200 km apart, such as the Clyde and Minch or Shetland and the Inner Hebrides. As such, population processes may operate at a smaller spatial scale than the stock level, with spawning aggregations functioning as local populations within a metapopulation. The relevance of this scale of dynamics is discussed in relation to recently imposed closed areas in the region.