Estimation of the parameters of fish stock dynamics from catch-at-age data and indices of abundance: can natural and fishing mortality be separated?
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Models for fluctuations in size of fish stocks must include parameters that describe expected dynamics, as well as stochastic influences. In addition, reliable population projections also require assessments about the uncertainties in estimates of vital parameters. Here we develop an age-structured model of population dynamics based on catch-at-age data and indices of abundance in which the natural and fishing mortality are separated in a Bayesian state-space model. Markov chain Monte Carlo methods are used to fit the model to the data. The model is fitted to a data set of 19 years for Northeast Arctic cod (Gadus morhua). By simulations of the fitted model we show that the model captures the dynamical pattern of natural mortality adequately, whereas the absolute size of natural mortality is difficult to estimate. Access to long time series of high-quality data are necessary for obtaining precise estimates of all the parameters in the model, but some parameters cannot be estimated without including some prior information. Nevertheless, our model demonstrates that temporal variability in natural mortality strongly affects perceived variability in stock sizes. Thus, using estimation procedures that neglect temporal fluctuations in natural mortality may therefore give biased estimates of fluctuations in fish stock sizes.