Patterns of larval-stage connectivity of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) within the Gulf of Maine in relation to current structure and a proposed fisheries closure Academic Article uri icon


  • The decline of the Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, stock in the Gulf of Maine to a historically low biomass has been coupled with a severe contraction in spatial range. The stock is now largely concentrated in the western Gulf of Maine. This erosion of spatial stock structure may be a factor-inhibiting recovery of Gulf of Maine cod. However, recent efforts to rebuild anadromous forage fish in the coastal Maine region coupled with the proposed creation of a new Eastern Maine Closed Area (EMCA), sited where localized depletion of the cod stock has been especially severe, might enable reestablishment of lost spatial structure of Gulf of Maine cod. We carried out larval transport modeling to examine the potential benefit of recovered cod spawning in the EMCA through supplying larvae to suitable juvenile settlement areas in the Gulf of Maine coastal zone and in the Cashes Ledge Closed Area (CLCA) in the central Gulf of Maine. The results indicate that an appreciable fraction of the larvae spawned in the EMCA are retained, to an age of settlement capability, in the coastal Maine region. Spawning in the EMCA may thus be a contributor of juveniles to a local, eastern Gulf of Maine, cod sub-stock. The results further indicate that spawning in the EMCA may supply a substantial subsidy of larvae to suitable juvenile habitat in the western Gulf of Maine and the CLCA. Protection of spawning stock in the EMCA may thus provide demographic benefits for the wider Gulf of Maine cod stock. Patterns of larval-stage connectivity between various potential spawning regions (including the EMCA) and areas of suitable juvenile habitat exhibit considerable interannual variability, which is predominantly linked to variability in the large-scale Gulf of Maine circulation. This result underscores the value of spatially explicit management as a means of fostering the recovery of the Gulf of Maine cod stock.

publication date

  • January 1, 2017