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Keywords:

  • Baltic Sea;
  • cod recovery;
  • ecosystem based fisheries management;
  • food limitation;
  • forage fish;
  • local depletion;
  • predator-prey overlap

Abstract

The eastern Baltic cod stock has recently started to recover, after two decades of severe depletion, however with unexpected side effects. The stock has not re-occupied its former wide distribution range, but remains concentrated in a limited area in the southern Baltic Sea. The biomass of forage fish, i.e., sprat and herring, is historic low in this area, which in combination with increasing cod stock results in locally high predation mortality of forage fish and cannibalism of cod. In line with low prey availability, body weight and nutritional condition of cod drastically declined. In the southern Baltic Sea, cod competes with pelagic fisheries for the limited resources of sprat and herring, while the largest biomass of these species is currently found outside the distribution range of cod. Accounting for spatial overlap between species is crucial in developing ecosystem based fisheries management to enhance the recovery of predator stocks.