How and why acoustic detectability and catchability of herring change with individual motivation and physiological state in a variable environment: a multi-scale study on a local herring population in southwestern Norway
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The understanding of distribution and aggregation in herring (Clupea harengus) can be enhanced by integrated multi-scale studies in small ecosystems. Hydro-acoustics, underwater cameras, herring and predator gillnet samples and oceanographical measurements were used to quantify herring schooling dynamics. During autumn (September) after an active feeding period, the herring was distributed in small and dense schools, mostly close to land and in relatively shallow water (< 30 m depth). During the late overwintering period in February altogether 5-7 rather dense and geographically stationary herring schools were found mid-pelagic in deeper waters (> 40 m depth). All recorded herring schools were then vertically extended in the water column within the most variable temperature and oxygen profiles, presumably enabling individuals to adjust maturation rate to prevailing environmental conditions and synchronize spawning of individuals within the school. From late February prior to spawning, only one major pelagic school was observed, extraordinarily stationary at the only inlet to the inner basin. The pre-spawning herring aggregation was fairly easy to detect acoustically for more than one month. Just prior to spawning and during spawning, herring spread out and became extremely difficult to detect acoustically. Only underwater cameras and bottom set gillnets could then be used to identify herring and selected spawning areas. We argue that the dramatic seasonal changes in acoustic detectability and catchability we observe is best understood and predicted based on detailed knowledge of how herring react to a changing environment according to their physiological state and motivation. Such factors should also be taken more systematically into account when performing acoustic surveys in large marine ecosystems. We need to study in more detail the vital underlying processes behind the substantial variability observed in acoustic detectability and catchability of pelagic planktivorous fish species during their annual life cycle in order to better understand and quantify variability in acoustic surveys, and thereby improve our acoustic abundance estimation.
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