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Model-based essential fish habitat definitions for Bering Sea groundfish species

Abstract

Defining the essential habitat of federally managed fishes and invertebrates is an important step in managing groundfishes from Alaska. Species distribution models have been widely used in conservation biology and terrestrial systems to define the potential habitat for organisms of interest. The models themselves can take a number of forms, from relatively simple to more complex frameworks. We applied generalized additive and maximum entropy modeling to both fishery-independent and fishery-dependent data sets and defined the essential habitat of early (eggs, larvae, and pelagic juveniles) and later life stages (settled juveniles and adults) of over 30 federally managed species across all seasons in the eastern and northern Bering Sea. In general, sea surface temperature was an important predictor of ichthyoplankton distributions while geographic location and bottom depth were predominant habitat covariates describing the distribution of most crabs and adult fishes.

Results from the species distribution models were used to synthesize maps identifying the spatial extent of essential fish habitat (EFH) for each species, life stage, and season. These maps represent quantitative links between species’ distributions and their habitat, can be an aid to assessing anthropogenic impacts in Alaska’s marine environment, and will be used for marine spatial planning.




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