1 National Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark2 Section for Marine Ecology and Oceanography, National Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark3 Aarhus University
Herring (Clupea harengus) is a capital breeder that stores energy reserves in muscle tissue. Individual potential fecundity relies on the size and weight of female fish. Poor condition during the maturation process can lead to a heavy down-regulation of fecundity through atresia and, in the extreme, cause skipped spawning. Herring in the Central Baltic Sea exist in a variable environment where food availability fluctuates substantially. Compared to other herring populations their condition is generally poor. In the present study, the oocyte dynamics and fecundity in relation to the condition of Central Baltic herring was investigated. A modern stereological method, the physical fractionator, was used to quantify the number of oocytes in previtellogenic (PG), cortical alveoli (CA) as well as successive vitellogenic (VT1 and VT2) stages in central Baltic herring during ovarian maturation. The potential fecundity, i.e. the number of VT2 oocytes, was low compared to other Atlantic stocks but the relative potential fecundity was higher. The latter decreased by 71% when comparing early-maturing individuals with CA oocytes and late-maturing individuals with VT2 oocytes, suggesting a substantial down-regulation of fecundity. Although determined as spring spawners by otolith hatch type, 15% of the randomly sampled females were characterized by oocytes in CA stage in the prespawning period, indicating skipped spawning. The condition of these females was poor, which might have resulted in skipped spawning. Ovary weight was a good predictor of potential fecundity within maturing stages of females. Combined with estimates of skipped spawning, this ovary weight could be used to estimate egg production thereby improving Central Baltic herring stock-recruitment models.