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Keywords:

  • migrations;
  • northern Gulf of St Lawrence;
  • stock rebuilding;
  • sub-stock structure

Homing behaviour and group cohesion in Atlantic cod Gadus morhua from the northern Gulf of St Lawrence were studied based on tagging–recapture data from two periods, the 1980s and a recent period from 1996 to 2008. Two or more tags from a single tagging experiment were frequently recovered together in subsequent years. The null hypothesis was tested that the frequency of matching tag recoveries occurred by chance only through random mixing of tagged G. morhua before their recapture by the commercial fishery. The alternative hypothesis was that non-random, positive association (group cohesion) existed among tagged individuals that persisted through time and during migrations. Results show that the G. morhua population exhibits a homing behaviour, with temporal stability across seasons and years: 50% of recaptured fish in the recent period were caught <34 km from their mark site, even 3 years after release. In the 1980s, G. morhua were located at <10 km from their release site 1 year after tagging during summer and at <16 km during spring and autumn combined. Despite the increasing distance between the mark and recapture sites over time, the difference was not significant. In addition, occurrences of two or more tagged fish from the same release event that were caught together indicated a non-random association among individual fish for periods of one to several years and through migrations over several hundred kilometres. Hence G. morhua showed group cohesion in addition to site fidelity. These two interacting behaviours may be fundamental for the rebuilding and conservation of depleted fish stocks.