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Keywords:

  • age;
  • Barents Sea;
  • climate;
  • cod;
  • length;
  • spawning stock biomass;
  • temperature

Abstract

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is one of the commercially most important fish species in the North Atlantic and plays a central role in several ecosystems. Fishing pressure has been heavy over a prolonged period and the recent decades have shown dramatic decline in abundance of many stocks. The Arcto-Norwegian (or North-east Arctic) cod stock in the Barents Sea is now the largest stock of Atlantic cod. Recruitment to this stock has varied extensively during the last 60 yr. There is evidence for fluctuations in climate, particularly sea temperature, being a main cause for this variability, higher temperatures being favourable for survival throughout the critical early life stages. Our studies of time series present compelling evidence for a strengthening of the climate–cod recruitment link during the last decades. We suggest this is an effect of the age and length composition of the spawning stock having changed distinctly. The age of the average spawner has decreased by more than 3 yr from between 10 and 11 in the late 1940s to 7–8 in the 1990s, average length from just above 90 cm to around 80 cm. The number of age classes contributing to the spawning stock has also decreased, while the number of length groups present increased slightly. Significant decrease in age of spawners has frequently been described for other heavily fished stocks worldwide. We therefore find it likely that the proposed mechanism of increased influence of climate on recruitment through changes in the spawning stock age and size composition is of a general nature and might be found in other systems.