Spatial and temporal heterogeneity in life history and productivity trends of Atlantic Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) and implications to fisheries management

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Virginia Tech

The biological characteristics of fisheries stocks that are assessed for management considerations are rarely homogeneous over time or space. However, stock assessment scientists largely ignore this heterogeneity in their models. This thesis addresses the effects of spatial and temporal heterogeneity on stock assessment models using Atlantic Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) as a case study. First, spatial and temporal variation was incorporated into length-, weight-, and maturity-at-age estimates using mixed-effects models (Chapter Two). The resulting heterogeneous weight and maturity parameters then were applied to per-recruit analyses to examine the sensitivity of biological reference points to spatial and temporal variation in life history attributes (Chapter Three). Mixed-effects life history models incorporating spatial and temporal variation revealed distinct regional and annual trends that were not visible from standard homogeneous models. In several instances, the homogeneous modelling approach produced life history estimates that varied significantly from the spatial and temporal means produced by the heterogeneous models. In some cases, this difference was so great that the homogeneous means were much higher or lower than the heterogeneous means for all regions or years. Minimized AIC statistics revealed that spatially and temporally integrated mixed-effects models were more robust and descriptive of Atlantic Weakfish life history than the standard homogeneous models. Per-recruit and biological reference points derived from these life history estimates in Chapter Three were found to be highly sensitive to spatial and temporal variations in weight parameters. In several cases, reference points used as management targets were so significantly different that ignoring spatial and temporal heterogeneity in Atlantic Weakfish life history would likely cause overfishing and decline of Weakfish in certain regions and years.

Atlantic Weakfish, mixed-effects models, individual variability, spatial heterogeneity, temporal heterogeneity, fish growth, maturity, Yield per-recruit, spawning stock biomass per-recruit, sensitivity analysis