Detecting mortality variation to enhance forage fish population assessments

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Authors Nis S Jacobsen, James T Thorson, Timothy E Essington
Journal/Conference Name ICES Journal of Marine Science
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Contemporary stock assessment models used by fisheries management often assume that natural mortality rates are constant over time for exploited fish stocks. This assumption results in biased estimates of fishing mortality and reference points when mortality changes over time. However, it is difficult to distinguish changes in natural mortality from changes in fishing mortality, selectivity, and recruitment. Because changes in size structure can be indicate changes in mortality, one potential solution is to use population size-structure and fisheries catch data to simultaneously estimate time-varying natural and fishing mortality. Here we test that hypothesis, using a simulation experiment to test performance for four alternative estimation models that estimate natural and fishing mortality from size structure and catch data. We show that it is possible to estimate time-varying natural mortality in a size-based model, even when fishing mortality, recruitment, and selectivity are changing over time. Finally, we apply the model to North Sea sprat, and show that estimates of recruitment and natural mortality are similar to estimates from an alternative multispecies population model fitted to additional data sources. We recommend exploring potential trends in natural mortality in forage fish assessments using tools such as the one presented here.
Date of publication 2018
Code Programming Language R
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