Commercial fishing generally removes large and old individuals from fish stocks, reducing mean age and age diversity among spawners. It is feared that these demographic changes lead to lower and more variable recruitment to the stocks. A key proposed pathway is that juvenation and reduced size distribution causes reduced ranges in spawning period, spawning location, and egg buoyancy; this is proposed to lead to reduced spatial distribution of fish eggs and larvae, more homogeneous ambient environmental conditions within each year-class, and reduced buffering against negative environmental influences. However, few, if any, studies have confirmed a causal link from spawning stock demographic structure through egg and larval distribution to year class strength at recruitment. We here show that high mean age and size in the spawning stock of Barents Sea cod (Gadus morhua) is positively associated with high abundance and wide spatiotemporal distribution of cod eggs. We find, however, no support for the hypothesis that a wide egg distribution leads to higher recruitment or a weaker recruitment-temperature correlation. These results are based on statistical analyses of a spatially resolved data set on cod eggs covering a period (1959-1993) with large changes in biomass and demographic structure of spawners. The analyses also account for significant effects of spawning stock biomass and a liver condition index on egg abundance and distribution. Our results suggest that the buffering effect of a geographically wide distribution of eggs and larvae on fish recruitment may be insignificant compared with other impacts.
Keywords: Gadus morhua; age and size truncation; climate effects; fisheries; population dynamics.