Is disease an important mortality factor for Pacific herring?

American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians


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Marine pelagic forage fishes, including sardines, anchovies, and herring, undergo large oscillations in population abundance. Although over-fishing can have a dramatic impact in reducing population size, this anthropogenic perturbation cannot fully account for all population declines because natural oscillations in marine pelagic fish biomasses occurred prior to the onset of commercial fishing. Among the herring metapopulation in Puget Sound / Straight of Georgia, the mean estimated annual mortality, exclusive of commercial fishing, increased from 20% in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to 64-87% during 1996-1999. This natural mortality affects primarily the older age cohorts and resulted in recent decreased median ages of adult herring from age 4-6 cohorts to age 2-3 cohorts that die prior to iteroparous spawning. Surveys of wild herring from the region indicate that the protozoan parasite Ichthyophonus sp., is currently ubiquitous among Pacific herring populations in Washington and British Columbia, and prevalence of infection increase directly with herring age, from 12% among juveniles to 58% among the underrepresented age 6+ cohorts. Ichthyophonus can be highly pathogenic to immunologically naïve Pacific herring, causing 80% mortality 2 mo. after exposure in the laboratory. Current laboratory-based studies are underway to determine whether natural Ichthyophonus infections are terminal for the host, and whether these infections account for the decreasing median age of wild Pacific herring populations in recent years.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Is disease an important mortality factor for Pacific herring?
Series title American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
Year Published 2005
Language English
Publisher AAWV
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 3 p.
First page 1
Last page 3
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