North Sea herring (Clupea harengus) are managed as a single stock, but maintaining a diversity of spawning components is considered important. However, the total catch from each of these components cannot be estimated easily because the components mix during the summer feeding season. The spawning origin of herring is determined from patterns in the microstructure of the otolith core, from samples taken in the central and northern North Sea during summer of 2004–2007. The annual catch composition of Dutch vessels is determined within a statistical framework that takes account of the spatial patterns in mixing of spawning components and the classification success of the method. Mixing of components varied between years, with steep latitudinal gradients in compositions in some years, resulting in pronounced between-year differences in estimated catch compositions. Differences in lengths-at-age between spawning components, in particular of the 2000 year class, may have caused the observed between-year changes in mixing of components. Our results indicate that estimates of compositions change when assumptions of perfect spatial mixing and perfect classification are relaxed, and can be uncertain in particular as a result of misclassifications, and that it may not be appropriate to assume that ratios between components are constant through time.
Ices Journal of Marine Science, 2010, Vol 67, Issue 5, p. 885-896