Combining genetic markers with stable isotopes in otoliths reveals complexity in the stock structure of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)
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Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) from the two main spawning populations in the Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico occur together in the western, central and eastern Atlantic. Stock composition of catches from mixing areas is uncertain, presenting a major challenge to the sustainable management of the fisheries. This study combines genetic and chemical markers to develop an integrated method of population assignment. Stable isotope signatures (δ13C and δ18O) in the otolith core of adults from the two main spawning populations (adult baselines) showed less overlap than those of yearlings (12–18 months old) from western and eastern nursery areas suggesting that some exchange occurs towards the end of the yearling phase. The integrated model combined δ18O with four genetic markers (SNPs) to distinguish the adult baselines with greater accuracy than chemical or genetic markers alone. When used to assign individuals from the mixing areas to their population of origin, the integrated model resolved some (but not all) discrepancies between the chemistry and genetic methods. Some individuals in the mixing area had otolith δ18O values and genetic profiles which when taken together, were not representative of either population. These fish may originate from another Atlantic spawning area or may represent population contingents that move away from the main spawning areas during the first year of life. This complexity in stock structure is not captured by the current two-stock model.
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