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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 14;8(8):e70668. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070668. eCollection 2013.

Localisation of nursery areas based on comparative analyses of the horizontal and vertical distribution patterns of juvenile Baltic cod (Gadus morhua).

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  • 1Technical University of Denmark, National Institute of Aquatic Resources, Charlottenlund, Denmark.


Knowledge of the spatial distribution of juvenile cod is essential for obtaining precise recruitment data to conduct sustainable management of the eastern and western Baltic cod stocks. In this study, the horizontal and vertical distribution and density patterns of settled juvenile 0- and 1-group Baltic cod are determined, and their nursery areas are localised according to the environmental factors affecting them. Comparative statistical analyses of biological, hydrographic and hydroacoustic data are carried out based on standard ICES demersal trawl surveys and special integrated trawl and acoustic research surveys. Horizontal distribution maps for the 2001-2010 cohorts of juvenile cod are further generated by applying a statistical log-Gaussian Cox process model to the standard trawl survey data. The analyses indicate size-dependent horizontal and distinct vertical and diurnal distribution patterns related to the seabed topography, water layer depth, and the presence of hydrographic frontal zones (pycnoclines) as well as intraspecific patterns in relation to the presence of adult cod. The extent of the nursery areas also depends on the cod year class strength. Juvenile cod (≥3 cm) are present in all areas of the central Baltic Sea (CBS), showing broad dispersal. However, their highest density in the Baltic Basins is found at localities with a 40-70 m bottom depth in waters with oxygen concentrations above 2 ml O₂.l⁻¹ and temperatures above 5°C. The smallest juveniles are also found in deep sea localities down to a 100 m depth and at oxygen concentrations between 2-4 ml O₂.l⁻¹. The vertical, diurnally stratified and repeated trawling and hydroacoustic target strength-depth distributions obtained from the special surveys show juvenile cod concentrations in frontal zone water layers (pycnocline). However, the analyses indicate that in the CBS, juvenile cod of all sizes do not appear to aggregate in dense schooling patterns, which differs from what has been reported from the North Sea.

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