El Niño effects in the Palmyra Atoll region: oceanographic changes and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) catch rate variability

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A generalized additive model (GAM) was constructed to separate and quantify the effects of fishery-based (operational) and oceanographic parameters on the bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) catch rates at Palmyra Atoll in the central Tropical Pacific. Bigeye catch, the number of hooks per set, and set location from 4884 longline sets spanning January 1994 to December 2003 were used with a temporally corresponding El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indicator built from sea surface height (SSH) data. Observations of environmental data combined with the results from the GAM indicated that there is an increase in bigeye catch rates corresponding to an increase in eastward advection during the winter months of El Niño events. A seasonal pattern with higher bigeye catch rates from December to April and a spatial pattern with higher rates to the northeast and northwest of the atoll were observed during this study period. It is hypothesized that the combination of the eastward advection of the warm pool coupled with vertical changes in temperature during the winter months of El Niño events increases the availability of bigeye tuna in this region. This increase in availability may be due to a change in exploitable population size, location, or both.
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