Onset of maturity and cohort composition at spawning of Baltic sprat Sprattus sprattus on the basis of otolith macrostructure analysis
Data on catch per unit effort (CPUE) from the Danish commercial fishery showed dense aggregations of sprat Sprattus sprattus born in 1997 in the main spawning area of the Baltic Sea during May 1999. After the analysis of their otolith macrostructure, these fish were found to have a shorter distance to the beginning of the first winter zone compared to fish from the same cohort caught in other months. At the same time, the number of fish with large otoliths at the period of winter zone formation tended to decrease or even disappear. The otolith size at winter zone formation (OW) was found to be a good predictor of sprat total length (LT) and mass (M) in age group 0 years. Changes in the otolith size distribution over time were related to variations in cohort composition depending on the LT and M attained during the juvenile stage. Examination of the gonads suggested two life history patterns: 1) individuals achieving a larger LT and M during the first growing season may contribute at age 1 years to the spawning stock and the fishery, whereas 2) individuals attaining smaller LT and M contribute in larger amounts to both the spawning stock and the fishery later, when they are at age 2 years. Moreover, changes in the relationship between OW and LT and M were related to differences in growth trajectories for sprat born during the same spawning season. Smaller sprat as group 0 years continued growing during the second growing season delaying maturity compared to larger individuals from the same cohort.