Severe winter conditions improve recruitment success of blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou), a temperate water fish species, in the NW Mediterranean sea

Mir-Arguimbau, Joan; Flexas, María del Mar; Salat, Jordi; Martín, Paloma; Balcells, Marc; Raventós, Núria; Sabatés, Ana. Progress in Oceanography 205 : 102818 (2022) DIGITAL CSIC 

Fish recruitment variability results from a complex mix of biological and physical processes, and their interactions, acting in the early life stages. In this study, we aim to investigate the environmental factors driving the recruitment success of blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou) in the NW Mediterranean through reconstruction of early life history traits derived from otoliths microstructure analysis. To this purpose, the study characterizes the oceanographic conditions in winter-spring of two contrasted years, 2017 and 2018, and relates them to the onset and duration of the spawning, growth performance and condition of blue whiting recruits. Winter 2017 was mild, with a short period of cold temperatures and limited winter vertical mixing. In winter 2018, temperatures reached lower values and extended for a longer period with intense vertical mixing and dense water cascading down the continental slope at the end of February. These different conditions were mirrored in the subsequent phytoplanktonic bloom, which in 2018 occurred later and was more intense than in 2017, extending over a longer period and occupying a wider area. The reproductive period of blue whiting was linked to the duration of low winter temperatures (~13 ◦C), shorter in 2017 than in 2018 (~40 and ~ 60 days respectively). While in 2017 all individuals were born in a relatively short period of time, and under similar environmental conditions, in 2018 the hatching period presented two differentiated peaks, separated by a period of relatively low hatchings at the end of February. This gap corresponded to dense water cascading and intense vertical mixing events, suggesting that these phenomena limited the survival of eggs and larvae. The few individuals hatched in this period showed the lowest growth rates (maximum values ~ 1.5 mm TL day 1), which would be related with the poor trophic environment during these events of intense mixing. Conversely, in both years, higher growth rates corresponded to the individuals born just before the phytoplankton bloom (attaining ~ 2 mm TL day 1). Recruits of 2018 showed better condition than those born the previous year which would be associated with the higher primary production detected in spring 2018. The recruitment strength in 2018, estimated from landings, was also much higher indicating that severe winter conditions translate into improved recruitment of a temperate water fish in the NW Mediterranean Sea.