Incorporating environmental variability in a spatially-explicit individual-based model of European sea bass✰

Joseph W Watson, Robin Boyd, Ritabrata Dutta, Georgios Vasdekis, Nicola D. Walker, Shovonlal Roy, Richard Everitt, Kieran Hyder, Richard M Sibly

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The northern stock of European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) is a large, high value, slow growing and late maturing fish that is an important target species for both commercial and recreational fisheries. Around the UK, scientific assessments have shown a rapid eight-year decline in spawning stock biomass since 2010 attributed to poor recruitment; this was likely driven by environmental factors and high fishing mortality. Management of the stock is informed by scientific assessments in which a population model is fitted to the available data and used to forecast the possible consequences of various catch options. However, the model currently used cannot represent the spatial distribution of the stock or any effects of environmental variability. One approach that may be used to represent the effects of spatial and temporal variation in environmental drivers is with Individual based models (IBMs). In IBMs populations are represented by their constituent individuals that interact with their environment and each other. The mechanistic nature of IBMs is often advantageous as a management tool for complex systems including fisheries. Here we add to an existing IBM to produce a spatio-temporally explicit IBM of the northern stock of sea bass in which individual fish respond to local food supply and sea surface temperature. All life stages (i.e., pelagic stages, juvenile and mature fish) are modelled and individual fish have their own realistic energy budgets driven by observed dynamic maps of phytoplankton density and sea surface temperature. The model is calibrated using Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC). After calibration by ABC the model gives good fits to key population parameters including spawning stock biomass. The model provides a mechanistic link between observed local food supplies and sea surface temperatures and overall population dynamics. Plots of spatial biomass distribution show how the model uses the energy budget to predict spatial and temporal change in sea bass biomass distribution in response to environmental variability. Our results indicate that the IBM is a promising approach that could be used to support stock assessment with scope for testing a range of spatially and temporally explicit management scenarios in addition to testing stock responses to novel environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109878
JournalEcological Modelling
Early online date21 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022

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