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Concept: Clupeidae


Microplastic is considered a potential threat to marine life as it is ingested by a wide variety of species. Most studies on microplastic ingestion are short-term investigations and little is currently known about how this potential threat has developed over the last decades where global plastic production has increased exponentially. Here we present the first long-term study on microplastic in the marine environment, covering three decades from 1987 to 2015, based on a unique sample set originally collected and conserved for food web studies. We investigated the microplastic concentration in plankton samples and in digestive tracts of two economically and ecologically important planktivorous forage fish species, Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) and European sprat (Sprattus sprattus), in the Baltic Sea, an ecosystem which is under high anthropogenic pressure and has undergone considerable changes over the past decades. Surprisingly, neither the concentration of microplastic in the plankton samples nor in the digestive tracts changed significantly over the investigated time period. Average microplastic concentration in the plankton samples was 0.21±0.15particlesm(-3). Of 814 fish examined, 20% contained plastic particles, of which 95% were characterized as microplastic (<5mm) and of these 93% were fibres. There were no significant differences in the plastic content between species, locations, or time of day the fish were caught. However, fish size and microplastic in the digestive tracts were positively correlated, and the fish contained more plastic during summer than during spring, which may be explained by increased food uptake with size and seasonal differences in feeding activity. This study highlights that even though microplastic has been present in the Baltic environment and the digestive tracts of fishes for decades, the levels have not changed in this period. This underscores the need for greater understanding of how plastic is cycled through marine ecosystems. The stability of plastic concentration and contamination over time observed here indicates that the type and level of microplastic pollution may be more closely correlated to specific human activities in a region than to global plastic production and utilization as such.

Concepts: Time, Fish, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Ocean, Herring, Clupeidae, Sprattus


The Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) population in Prince William Sound, Alaska crashed in 1993 and has yet to recover, affecting food web dynamics in the Sound and impacting Alaskan communities. To help researchers design and implement the most effective monitoring, management, and recovery programs, a Bayesian assessment of Prince William Sound herring was developed by reformulating the current model used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Bayesian model estimated pre-fishery spawning biomass of herring age-3 and older in 2013 to be a median of 19,410 mt (95% credibility interval 12,150-31,740 mt), with a 54% probability that biomass in 2013 was below the management limit used to regulate fisheries in Prince William Sound. The main advantages of the Bayesian model are that it can more objectively weight different datasets and provide estimates of uncertainty for model parameters and outputs, unlike the weighted sum-of-squares used in the original model. In addition, the revised model could be used to manage herring stocks with a decision rule that considers both stock status and the uncertainty in stock status.

Concepts: Decision theory, Alaska, Pacific Ocean, Herring, Clupeidae, Pacific herring, Prince William Sound, Gulf of Alaska


During the last 50 years human anisakiasis has been rising while parasites have increased their prevalence at determined fisheries becoming an emergent major public health problem. Although artificial enzymatic digestion procedure by CODEX (STAN 244-2004: standard for salted Atlantic herring and salted sprat) is the recommended protocol for anisakids inspection, no international agreement has been achieved in veterinary and scientific digestion protocols to regulate this growing source of biological hazard in fish products. The aim of this work was to optimize the current artificial digestion protocol by CODEX with the purpose of offering a faster, more useful and safer procedure for factories workers, than the current one for anisakids detection. To achieve these objectives, the existing pepsin chemicals and the conditions of the digestion method were evaluated and assayed in fresh and frozen samples, both in lean and fatty fish species. Results showed that the new digestion procedure considerably reduces the assay time, and it is more handy and efficient (the quantity of the resulting residue was considerably lower after less time) than the widely used CODEX procedure. In conclusion, the new digestion method herein proposed based on liquid pepsin format is an accurate reproducible and user-friendly off-site tool, that can be useful in the implementation of screening programs for the prevention of human anisakiasis (and associated gastroallergic disorders) due to the consumption of raw or undercooked contaminated seafood products.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biology, Fish, Object-oriented programming, Seafood, Herring, Pepsin, Clupeidae


The aim of this survey was to compare total mercury (THg) in canned fish in terms of species and fishing area. A number of 110 samples of canned fish, which were divided by fish species and fishing area, were analysed. The highest THg content in muscle tissue was found in the escolar. In other fish species the highest level was detected in tuna. Mercury content in tuna differed significantly from mackerel, sardine and sprat. Mercury content in herring differed significantly from sprat. The order of the fish according to their THg content corresponds to their status in the aquatic food chain. A significant difference was also found between fish caught from the closed Mediterranean and Black Sea and fish caught in the open oceans. In terms of THg content, the results of this study indicate good quality of various species of canned fish caught in worldwide locations.

Concepts: Fish, Europe, Czech Republic, Ocean, Czechoslovakia, Czech language, Oily fish, Clupeidae


Demographic, functional, or habitat diversity can confer stability on populations via portfolio effects (PEs) that integrate across multiple ecological responses and buffer against environmental impacts. The prevalence of these PEs in aquatic organisms is as yet unknown, and can be difficult to quantify; however, understanding mechanisms that stabilize populations in the face of environmental change is a key concern in ecology. Here, we examine PEs in Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) in Puget Sound (USA) using a 40-year time series of biomass data for 19 distinct spawning population units collected using two survey types. Multivariate auto-regressive state-space models show independent dynamics among spawning subpopulations, suggesting that variation in herring production is partially driven by local effects at spawning grounds or during the earliest life history stages. This independence at the subpopulation level confers a stabilizing effect on the overall Puget Sound spawning stock, with herring being as much as three times more stable in the face of environmental perturbation than a single population unit of the same size. Herring populations within Puget Sound are highly asynchronous but share a common negative growth rate and may be influenced by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The biocomplexity in the herring stock shown here demonstrates that preserving spatial and demographic diversity can increase the stability of this herring population and its availability as a resource for consumers.

Concepts: Biology, Demography, Ecology, Stability, Puget Sound, Herring, Clupeidae, Pacific herring


Pelagic fishes are among the most ecologically and economically important fish species in European seas. In principle, these pelagic fishes have potential to demonstrate rapid abundance and distribution shifts in response to climatic variability due to their high adult motility, planktonic larval stages, and low dependence on benthic habitat for food or shelter during their life histories. Here we provide evidence of substantial climate-driven changes to the structure of pelagic fish communities in European shelf seas. We investigated the patterns of species-level change using catch records from 57,870 fisheries-independent survey trawls from across European continental shelf region between 1965 and 2012. We analysed changes in the distribution and rate of occurrence of the six most common species, and observed a strong subtropicalization of the North Sea and Baltic Sea assemblages. These areas have shifted away from cold-water assemblages typically characterised by Atlantic herring and European sprat from the 1960s to 1980s, to warmer-water assemblages including Atlantic mackerel, Atlantic horse mackerel, European pilchard and European anchovy from the 1990s onwards. We next investigated if warming sea temperatures have forced these changes using temporally-comprehensive data from the North Sea region. Our models indicated the primary driver of change in these species has been sea surface temperatures in all cases. Together, these analyses highlight how individual species responses have combined to result in a dramatic subtropicalization of the pelagic fish assemblage of the European continental shelf. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Europe, Ocean, North Sea, Forage fish, Herring, Clupeidae


In the coming decades, environmental change like warming and acidification will affect life in the ocean. While data on single stressor effects on fish are accumulating rapidly, we still know relatively little about interactive effects of multiple drivers. Of particular concern in this context are the early life stages of fish, for which direct effects of increased CO2 on growth and development have been observed. Whether these effects are further modified by elevated temperature was investigated here for the larvae of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), a commercially important fish species. Over a period of 32 days, larval survival, growth in size and weight, and instantaneous growth rate were assessed in a crossed experimental design of two temperatures (10°C and 12°C) with two CO2 levels (400 μatm and 900 μatm CO2) at food levels mimicking natural levels using natural prey. Elevated temperature alone led to increased swimming activity, as well as decreased survival and instantaneous growth rate (Gi). The comparatively high sensitivity to elevated temperature in this study may have been influenced by low food levels offered to the larvae. Larval size, Gi and swimming activity were not affected by CO2, indicating tolerance of this species to projected “end of the century” CO2 levels. A synergistic effect of elevated temperature and CO2 was found for larval weight, where no effect of elevated CO2 concentrations was detected in the 12°C treatment, but a negative CO2 effect was found in the 10°C treatment. Contrasting CO2 effects were found for survival between the two temperatures. Under ambient CO2 conditions survival was increased at 12°C compared to 10°C. In general, CO2 effects were minor and considered negligible compared to the effect of temperature under these mimicked natural food conditions. These findings emphasize the need to include biotic factors such as energy supply via prey availability in future studies on interactive effects of multiple stressors.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Effect, Ecology, Affect, Actinopterygii, Herring, Atlantic herring, Clupeidae


Although modern beaked whales (Ziphiidae) are known to be highly specialized toothed whales that predominantly feed at great depths upon benthic and benthopelagic prey, only limited palaeontological data document this major ecological shift. We report on a ziphiid-fish assemblage from the Late Miocene of Peru that we interpret as the first direct evidence of a predator-prey relationship between a ziphiid and epipelagic fish. Preserved in a dolomite concretion, a skeleton of the stem ziphiid Messapicetus gregarius was discovered together with numerous skeletons of a clupeiform fish closely related to the epipelagic extant Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax). Based on the position of fish individuals along the head and chest regions of the ziphiid, the lack of digestion marks on fish remains and the homogeneous size of individuals, we propose that this assemblage results from the death of the whale (possibly via toxin poisoning) shortly after the capture of prey from a single school. Together with morphological data and the frequent discovery of fossil crown ziphiids in deep-sea deposits, this exceptional record supports the hypothesis that only more derived ziphiids were regular deep divers and that the extinction of epipelagic forms may coincide with the radiation of true dolphins.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Whale, Megafauna, Beaked whale, Toothed whales, Clupeidae, South American pilchard


Twenty-first century conservation is centered on negotiating trade-offs between the diverse needs of people and the needs of the other species constituting coupled human-natural ecosystems. Marine forage fishes, such as sardines, anchovies, and herring, are a nexus for such trade-offs because they are both central nodes in marine food webs and targeted by fisheries. An important example is Pacific herring, Clupea pallisii in the Northeast Pacific. Herring populations are subject to two distinct fisheries: one that harvests adults and one that harvests spawned eggs. We develop stochastic, age-structured models to assess the interaction between fisheries, herring populations, and the persistence of predators reliant on herring populations. We show that egg- and adult-fishing have asymmetric effects on herring population dynamics - herring stocks can withstand higher levels of egg harvest before becoming depleted. Second, ecosystem thresholds proposed to ensure the persistence of herring predators do not necessarily pose more stringent constraints on fisheries than conventional, fishery driven harvest guidelines. Our approach provides a general template to evaluate ecosystem trade-offs between stage-specific harvest practices in relation to environmental variability, the risk of fishery closures, and the risk of exceeding ecosystem thresholds intended to ensure conservation goals are met.

Concepts: Fish, Fisheries, Overfishing, Forage fish, Population dynamics of fisheries, Herring, Fishery, Clupeidae


Cryptic species continue to be uncovered in many fish taxa, posing challenges for fisheries conservation and management. In Sardinella gibbosa, previous investigations revealed subtle intra-species variations, resulting in numerous synonyms and a controversial taxonomy for this sardine. Here, we tested for cryptic diversity within S. gibbosa using genetic data from two mitochondrial and one nuclear gene regions of 248 individuals of S. gibbosa, collected from eight locations across the Philippine archipelago. Deep genetic divergence and subsequent clustering was consistent across both mitochondrial and nuclear markers. Clade distribution is geographically limited: Clade 1 is widely distributed in the central Philippines, while Clade 2 is limited to the northernmost sampling site. In addition, morphometric analyses revealed a unique head shape that characterized each genetic clade. Hence, both genetic and morphological evidence strongly suggests a hidden diversity within this common and commercially-important sardine.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Species, Philippines, Sardinella, Clupeidae, Goldstripe Sardinella