Spatial Dynamics of Valued Atlantic Groundfish

OFI Large Research Module D

Using acoustic fish tags and genetic markers, researchers are tracking the movements of Northern cod and Atlantic halibut to identify where and when they spawn, feed, and migrate. The data collected through this research project will help characterize fish populations (stocks and sub-stocks), survival, spawning, movements, and track their distribution in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. This research on groundfish (fish that live and feed near the bottom of the ocean) will support the development of new, more responsive, sustainable fisheries management practices.

About the research

Northern cod and Atlantic halibut are both high-valued fish species. To varying degrees, climate change, environmental stresses, and intense fishing have affected their distributions. Marine species are relocating in response to climate change in particular, thus shifting the entire ecosystem. The fish population information produced by this research will support sustainable management of recovering cod stocks (following fisheries collapses in the early 1990s) and high-valued halibut stocks.

Key research questions:

  • Stock Structure: How many stocks and sub-stocks exist, how are they distributed, and how are they connected?
  • Spawning Grounds: How many major spawning groups of stocks and sub-stocks occur and where?
  • Migration Patterns: Do stocks follow predictable patterns of movement and when do such movements occur? Does movement vary depending on fish size?
  • Demography: What are the rates of residency, survival, and emigration?
  • Sustainability: How can improved information about stock locations and movements advance stock assessment computer models?
  • Trust: How does improved understanding of stocks and their locations and movements impact consumer confidence in the legitimacy of independent fisheries certifications?

This research will support new conservation and management strategies that consider how ecosystems may change in the future, based on three key aspects: 

  1. Tracking
    - Track animals to locate spawning areas, which can help define sub-stock
    - Identify annual migrations among seasonal habitats
    - Link where animals occur to genetic data collected when they were tagged
  2. Genetics
    - Develop genetic markers to differentiate between stocks identified by electronic tracking
  3. Social sciences
    - Study the social and economic consequences of improved stock information on how society uses fish and fisheries 

The research team

Module Leads:

  • Sara Iverson, Scientific Director at the Ocean Tracking Network (Dalhousie)
  • Aaron MacNeil, Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Ecology (Dalhousie)
  • Jonathan Fisher (Memorial)

Primary Collaborating Researchers:

Dalhousie University:

  • Damian Lidgard, Emerging Researcher
  • Fred Whoriskey
  • Paul Bentzen
  • Daniel Ruzzante
  • Megan Bailey

 Memorial University of Newfoundland:

  • Arnault Le Bris, Emerging Researcher

Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

  • Nell den Heyer
  • Robert Gregory
  • Ian Bradbury

Additional Collaborating Researchers:

Dalhousie University:

  • Richard Davis

Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

  • John Brattey
  • Jae Choi
  • Derek Fenton
  • Corey Morris
  • Nancy Shackell