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Keywords:

  • Anguilla anguilla;
  • Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study;
  • bottom-up;
  • glass eel;
  • primary production;
  • recruitment;
  • regime shift;
  • Sargasso Sea;
  • SST

Abstract

European eel decline is now widely observed and involves a large number of factors such as overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, dam construction, river obstruction, parasitism and environmental changes. In the present study, we analyzed the influence of environmental conditions in the Sargasso Sea and Atlantic ocean circulation on European glass eel recruitment success. Over a recent 11-yr period, we showed a strong positive correlation between an original index of glass eel recruitment and primary production (PP) in eel spawning area. Moreover, PP was negatively correlated with temperature in the Sargasso Sea. Therefore, we used sea temperature as an inverse proxy of marine production. A close negative relationship has been found over the last four decades between long-term fluctuations in recruitment and in sea temperature. These findings were reinforced by the detection of a regime shift in sea temperature that preceded the start of the decline in glass eel recruitment in the early 1980s. By contrast, variations in integrative indices measuring ocean circulation, i.e. latitude and strength of the Gulf Stream, did not seem to explain variations in glass eel recruitment. Our results support the hypothesis of a strong bottom-up control of leptocephali survival and growth by PP in the Sargasso Sea on short and long time scales. We argue that sea warming in the eel spawning area since the early 1980s has modified marine production and eventually affected the survival rate of European eels at early life stages.