Comparative biology and population mixing among local, coastal and offshore Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) in the North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat and western Baltic
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The population structure of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) from 13 local, coastal and offshore areas of the North Sea, Skagerrak, Kattegat and western Baltic (northeast Atlantic) was studied using biological and environmental data from 1970–2015. The objective was to identify distinct populations by comparing variability in the temporal and spatial phenotypic characteristics and evaluate the potential for mixing of populations in time and space. The populations varied in biological characteristics such as mean vertebral counts (VS), growth and maturity ogives. Generalized additive models indicated temporally stable VS in the North Sea and western Baltic, whereas intra-annual temporal variation of VS occurred in other areas. High variability of VS within a population was not affected by environmental factors such as temperature and salinity. Consequently, seasonal VS variability can be explained by the presence or absence of herring populations as they migrate between areas. The three main populations identified in this paper correspond to the three managed stocks in this area: Norwegian spring spawners (NSS), western Baltic spring spawners (WBSS) and North Sea autumn spawners (NSAS). In addition, several local populations were identified in fjords or lakes along the coast, but our analyses could not detect direct mixing of local populations with the three main populations. Our results highlight the importance of recognizing herring dynamics and understanding the mixing of populations as a challenge for management of herring.