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A numerical study of inferred rockfish (Sebastes spp.) larval dispersal along the central California coast

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Successful recruitment of marine fishes depends on survival during early life-history stages, which is influenced by oceanic advection due to its impact on coastal trophodynamics and transport processes. Here we evaluate the influence of ocean circulation on the dispersal of rockfish (Sebastes spp.) larvae along the central California coast using an implementation of the Regional Ocean Modeling System, driven at the surface by output from the Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System. Thousands of floats simulating rockfish larval propagules, constrained to follow fixed depths, were released over a broad coastal area at 2-day intervals, and transported by simulated ocean currents at depths of 1, 7, 20, 40, and 70 m. Trajectory statistics are averaged across the 4-yr period from January 2000 through December 2003 to reveal mean trajectory direction, net displacement, fractional cross-shore loss, and duration of retention for different seasons. On average, near-surface propagules originating nearshore are transported offshore during the upwelling season, whereas deeper propagules move alongshore to the north. This vertical shear vanishes during winter, with most floats moving alongshore to the north, regardless of depth. After 35 days in the water column, typical transport distances were ∼50 km for floats remaining nearshore and ∼150 km for floats over the midshelf and slope. Implications for performance of marine reserves for rockfish conservation are discussed. Our results also provide evidence for a strong semiannual pattern of coastal retention rates, with high export of near-surface drifters during the upwelling season. In contrast, high rates of shelf retention occurred for releases at 20 m and deeper during summer, and at all depths during winter.
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Keywords: California; Lagrangian; Regional Ocean Modeling System; dispersal; drifters; hydrodynamic; larval transport; marine reserve; ocean model; rockfish; seasonality; upwelling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Ocean Sciences Department, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA 2: NOAA fisheries – Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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