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Mixed-stock analysis of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus): a tool for identifying management units and complex migration dynamics

We developed and validated a mixed-stock analysis (MSA) method with 59 single-nucleotide polymorphisms selected from genome-wide data to assign individuals to populations in mixed-stock samples of Atlantic herring from the North and Baltic seas. We analysed 3734 herring from spawning locations and scientific catches of mixed feeding stocks to demonstrate a “one-fits-all” tool with unprecedented accuracy for monitoring spatio-temporal dynamics throughout a large geographical range with complex stock mixing. We re-analysed time-series data (2002–2021) and compared inferences about stock composition with estimates from morphological data. We show that contributions from the western Baltic spring-spawning stock complex, which is under management concern, have likely been overestimated. We also show that a genetically distinctive population of western Baltic autumn spawners, ascribed low fisheries importance, contributes non-negligible and potentially temporally increasing proportions to mixed-stock aggregations, calling for a re-evaluation of stock definitions. MSA data can be implemented in stock assessment and in a variety of applications, including marine ecosystem description, impact assessment of specific fleets, and stock-rebuilding plans



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