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Irish sprat (Sprattus sprattus) stock parameters: Preliminary investigations

Irish sprat (Sprattus sprattus) stock parameters: Preliminary investigations

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Lecturer Nomination) Competition by Niall Fallon. It is nominated by Lecturer Rick Officer of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in the category of Life Sciences
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Lecturer Nomination) Competition by Niall Fallon. It is nominated by Lecturer Rick Officer of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in the category of Life Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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Irish sprat (
 Sprattus sprattus
) stock parameters: Preliminary investigations
Little is known of the status and dynamics of sprat population(s) in Irish waters. With fisheriescontinuing to target previously unexploited species, there is a need for knowledge regarding thenature of sprat stock(s). This study investigates population structure through analysis of variation in phenotypic traits such as length-weight relationship, otolith morphology, and Fulton's conditionfactor (K) between geographically separate locations. Precision and bias in sprat age determinationwere measured in order to determine the reliability of estimates. Growth parameters were derived by fitting Von Bertalanffy growth models to length-at-age data collected from different locations,and were found to be similar. Preliminary information was collected on sex-ratios and maturitystatus at the time of sampling. There were equal proportions of male and female individuals at allsites, with no variation in sex-ratio detected per size-class. Recommendations for furtheinvestigations are included in the discussion.
Irish sprat fisheries are exploited but unregulated, and as a result the status and dynamics of thestock(s) are not understood (Marine Institute 2009). Molloy
et al.
(1977) endeavoured to describethe biological characteristics of selected Irish sprat fisheries in order to understand stock dynamicsand offer appropriate management advice. That report is the only study available which is specificto the assessment and management of Irish sprat fisheries. At that time, the species did not hold anygreat economic importance, although the Irish Sea fishery did grow considerably during the 1970sin order to supply the burgeoning fishmeal industry. Total landings, population age structure andgrowth characteristics need to be discerned if the fishery is to be managed effectively through theapplication of stock-appropriate regulation. Investigation of geographic variation in genotypic or  phenotypic traits may give evidence of discrete spawning or feeding populations, and could thus aid
in the decision to treat the Irish fishery as one large mixed population or a number of discretesub-stocks (Winters
et al 
. 1994). Although there is a paucity of information regarding sprat in Irishwaters, there is a wealth of information to be drawn from published Baltic Sea studies, where animage of the ecological importance of the species has emerged in the last decade throughincreasingly detailed scientific research and assessment surveys (Alheit J. 2009;Cardinale
et al 
. 2002; Casini
et al.
2006; Mackenzie
et al.
2004).Sprat is an r-selected species, reaching reproductive maturity early in its short lifespan (withfemales spawning repeatedly throughout the season), and when appropriately managed has the potential to breed prolifically and thus recover well from losses through fishing mortality. In the past, Baltic state landings alone have exceeded 500,000 tonnes, and as such, sprat is a potentiallysignificant and virtually untapped resource in Ireland (Peck 
et al.
2008). However, it would not beresponsible for the fishery to expand much further until the nature and sustainability of the stock(s)are more comprehensively understood (Marine Institute 2009).There is also concern that there is a certain degree of misreporting of other species as sprat becausethe fishery is unregulated (Marine Institute 2009). In Baltic states, where sprat quotas are either non-existent or the quotas are far higher than actual landings, and the herring (
Clupea harengus
)quota is low relative to market demands, there is a strong incentive to misreport herring landings assprat (Peck 
et al 
. 2008). By setting sprat quotas at market appropriate levels, whilst taking stock sustainability into account, the prospect of a collapse of two fisheries due to a lack of regulation inone can be avoided.The aims of this study are: to estimate the age composition of sprat population(s) occurring in Irishwaters using sagittal otolith seasonal growth annuli; to assess intra-reader and inter-reader bias and precision of age estimates determined using otolith analysis; to investigate spatial variation in phenotypic traits (e.g. growth, condition, otolith morphology) which may be used in assessment of stock structure; and to gather preliminary information regarding sex-ratio and maturity status of sprat in Irish waters in October-November. The information gathered by this study, when applied in
conjunction with the routine port sampling activities of the Marine Institute, will allow for theformulation of management advice in line with those prescribed for other commercially exploitedfishery stocks.
Materials and Methods
SamplingA total of 653 sprat were randomly sampled from hauls that were taken in the Celtic Sea(ICES area VIIg), and the North-east Atlantic (ICES areas VIa, VIIb, VIIj2; see Figure 1).Pelagic-trawl gear with a 50mm cod-end mesh size was used to collect fish in the Celtic Sea as partof the herring acoustic survey in October 2010, which targets herring (
Clupea harengus
)aggregations specifically. Bottom-trawl gear with a 20mm cod-end mesh size was used for further sampling in the Celtic Sea, as well as in the North-east Atlantic, during the groundfish survey in November 2010, whereby a specified number of trawls are carried out over a designated surveytrack. Both surveys were carried out by the Fisheries Science Services of the Irish Marine Institute,aboard the RV “Celtic Explorer”. Samples were packed and frozen at sea for subsequent analysis.Sample ProcessingStandard length to the nearest 0.5cm, and weight to the nearest 0.01g of each fish was measured inthe laboratory. Saggital otoliths were removed from each fish under a stereoscope at 12xmagnification, cleaned and stored dry in plastic boxes. Gonads of ~12% of fish were weighed andthen examined under a stereoscope at 12x magnification to determine sex, and maturity stage(Females only; Kraus
et al 
. 2004, after Alekseev
et al 
. 1996). Fulton's condition factor (K), an indexof well-being, was calculated for each fish using length and weight data (1),(1)

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