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Rapport, 2018

Losing track of time : causes and solutions for the problematic determination of Baltic cod age

Heimbrand, Yvette


Cod (Gadus morhua) is a key fish species of the Baltic Sea, economically as well as ecologically. Stocks declined during recent decades due to factors such as high fishing pressure, loss of spawning and feeding habitats caused by eutrophication, changing climate and widespread hypoxia. The growing seal population preys on cod and increased contact has resulted in the transmittance of parasites to cod, causing additional stress. In order to manage fisheries, age distribution and growth history of fish are needed to run stock assessment models. Based on these biological references, decisions are made for fishing quotas and restricting catches. Fish age is usually determined from counting annual growth zones in otoliths, calcium carbonate structures situated in the skull of the fish. Otoliths grow incrementally, depositing layers of material, forming annual rings reflecting growth, like a tree’s rings. Baltic cod otolith readability has always been somewhat difficult; today the poor condition of Baltic cod has worsened the problem. Unclear seasonal growth zones in otoliths have made age data unreliable, resulting in an uncertain forecast for stock size and suspended Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate for sustainable seafood. However, invisible to the eye, the chemistry of the otolith contains a “hidden code” that could validate conventional ageing methods. The otolith takes up trace elements and isotopes from the surrounding water; hence the fish’s seasonal migration among areas with different environmental conditions is recorded in the otolith. Microchemical analyses enable us to track seasonal changes in trace elemental and isotopic composition in the otolith throughout the fish’s life. The aim of this thesis is to (1) explore the potential use of otolith chemistry as an age validating tool, (2) provide alternative ways to age fishes when other methods fail, as well as (3) provide novel information for aquatic monitoring.


Age validation, otolith chemistry, Baltic cod, Gadus morhua, LA-ICP-MS, SFXM, seasonal patterns

Publicerad i

Aqua introductory research essay
2018, nummer: 2018:1
eISBN: 978-91-576-9556-7
Utgivare: Department of Aquatic Resources, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences