Large-scale variation in seasonal swimming patterns of plaice in the North Sea

E Hunter, RJ Cotton, JD Metcalfe, JD Reynolds

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We examined the mid-water swimming activity of 139 mature female plaice Pleuronectes platessa L. These were tagged with electronic data storage tags (DST1s and DST3s) to test whether swimming at different times of the year differed among areas of the North Sea with average tidal current velocities ranging from fast (West), to intermediate (East), to slow (North). Longer swimming duration and more tidal activity were predicted for the western group, where fast-flowing tidal currents allow efficient selective tidal stream transport. Individual depth data were converted into binary records representing either swimming or resting; repeated patterns of swimming were analysed according to cycle-length frequencies. Most swimming occurred during expected times of migration and spawning (October to March). Plaice infrequently spent >5 h in mid-water, and rarely left the sea-bed during summer. DST1 tagged plaice (West only) spent the longest times swimming (p > 0.001), but there was no significant effect of Area for DST3s (all areas), suggesting that swimming plays an important behavioural role in migration in addition to transport between feeding and spawning areas. Tidal patterns of activity occurred in all 3 sub-stocks, predominantly during the migratory period (albeit at a significantly lower frequency in the North). These data provide one of few examples where the annual behaviour patterns of a fish stock have been recorded across a large part of its geographical range. The results have important implications for understanding the energetics of fish migration and the availability of demersal stocks to capture by commercial and survey vessels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-178
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Plaice
  • Migration
  • Data storage tags
  • Swimming
  • Behaviour
  • Fisheries

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