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Fitting growth models to otolith increments to reveal time-varying growth

Identifying changes in fish growth is important for accurate scientific advice used for fisheries management, because environmental change is affecting fish growth and size-at-age is a critical component of contemporary stock assessment methods. Growth-increment biochronologies are time series of growth-increments derived from hard parts of marine organisms that may reveal dynamics of somatic fish growth. Here we use time series of otolith increments of two fish stocks to fit and compare a biologically derived growth model and a generalized statistical model. Both models produced similar trajectories of annual growth trends, but the biologically based one was more precise and predicted smaller interannual fluctuations than the statistical model. The biologically based model strongly indicated covariance between anabolic and catabolic rates among individuals. Otolith size-at-age did not closely match fish length-at-age, and consequently the growth model could not accurately hindcast observed fish length-at-age. For these reasons, fitted growth dynamics from otolith biochronologies may best suited to identify growth rate fluctuations, understand past drivers of growth dynamics, and improve ecological forecast in the face of rapid environmental change.

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