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Ecology - Nutrition


Hypotheses of Spatial Stock Structure in Orange Roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus Inferred from Diet, Feeding, Condition, and Reproductive Activity
Published: Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Author: Matthew R. Dunn et al.

by Matthew R. Dunn, Jeffrey S. Forman

We evaluate hypotheses for meso-scale spatial structure in an orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) stock using samples collected during research trawl surveys off the east coast of New Zealand. Distance-based linear models and generalised additive models were used to identify the most significant biological, environmental, and temporal predictors of variability in diet, proportion of stomachs containing prey, standardised weight of prey, fish somatic weight, fish total weight, and reproductive activity. The diet was similar to that observed elsewhere, and varied with ontogeny, depth, and surface water temperature. Smaller sized and female orange roughy in warmer bottom water were most likely to contain food. Fish condition and reproductive activity were highest at distances more than 20 km from the summit of the hills. Trawl survey catches indicated greater orange roughy densities in hill strata, suggesting hill habitat was favoured. However, analyses of feeding, condition, and reproductive activity indicated hill fish were not superior, despite fish densities on hills being reduced by fishing which, in principle, should have reduced intra-specific competition for food and other resources. Hypotheses for this result include: (1) fish in relatively poor condition visit hills to feed and regain condition and then leave, or (2) commercial fishing has disturbed feeding aggregations and/or caused habitat damage, making fished hills less productive. Mature orange roughy were observed on both flat and hill habitat during periods outside of spawning, and if this spatial structure was persistent then a proportion of the total spawning stock biomass would remain unavailable to fisheries targeting hills. Orange roughy stock assessments informed only by data from hills may well be misleading.
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