Current methods for estimation of age- and year-specific instantaneous mortality rates based on multiyear, multiple-age tagging studies assume that it is feasible to tag fish in a wide range of ages. For some species, however, only the youngest one or two age-classes are readily available for tagging. Given the practical advantages of tagging young fish only, an important question is whether such studies would provide the information needed for estimation of age-dependent mortality rates. We investigated three designs: tagging only the youngest available age-class, tagging the two youngest age-classes, and tagging the first five age-classes. We carried out simulation studies to assess estimator performance under these three designs, in each case assuming the same total number of tagged fish. Data were generated assuming fishing mortality rates to be age and year dependent and natural mortality rates to be constant or with limited age dependence. Estimator performance is best when fish are tagged in five age-classes, and tagging fish in the two youngest age-classes shows substantial improvement compared with tagging one age-class only. External information about the tag-reporting rate is necessary to obtain estimators with reasonable properties, especially in the case of models with age-dependent natural mortality. Such information can be obtained from auxiliary studies by means of high-reward tags or planted tags. Collecting recovery information for several additional years after the last release produces small improvements in precision and bias. If tagging fish in multiple age-classes is impractical, reasonable precision can be obtained by tagging one or preferably two age-classes and obtaining supplemental information on the reporting rate. For illustration, estimates of age-dependent fishing and natural mortality rates were obtained from tag returns on Chesapeake Bay striped bass Morone saxatilis tagged at ages 3 and 4 years. ?? Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2007.
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Estimating fishing mortality, natural mortality, and selectivity using recoveries from tagging young fish