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Modelling diet composition dynamics among North Sea predatory fish using a length-structured partial ecosystem model

McCaig, Chris and Speirs, Douglas and Heath, Michael (2012) Modelling diet composition dynamics among North Sea predatory fish using a length-structured partial ecosystem model. In: 6th World Fisheries Congress, 2012-05-07 - 2012-05-11.

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Abstract

Multispecies fisheries management approaches must take account of the array of trophic interactions within the ecosystem. Studies of the gut contents of fish stocks in the North Sea show decadal changes in diet composition, as might be expected when the relative abundances of prey species change. In this paper we explore the extent to which a simple model of prey consumption deployed within a dynamic multi-species population model is able to capture those changes. We make use of a length-structured partial-ecosystem model (FishSUMS) in which the relative preferences of predators for prey are set by a combination of species weightings and predator-to-prey length ratios. The model allows for diets to evolve over the lifetime of the predator species as well as in response to changes in the available prey. Eleven commercially important North Sea species were included in the model with full length structure, together with other trophic resources represented in less detail. The model was simultaneously tuned to various sources of data, including time series of stock biomass and landings. We show that, despite the simplicity of the representation of the predation process, it is capable of capturing some of the large observed changes in diet in four predator species that were sampled during the Year of the Stomach projects in 1981 and 1991: cod, haddock, whiting and saithe. We also quantify how much of the biomass is lost to the fishery, to predation by explicitly-modelled species, and to unspecified mortality.