Entrainment and retention of the coastal larval fish assemblage by a short-lived, submesoscale, frontal eddy of the East Australian Current

Thomas J. Mullaney and Iain M. Suthers

Limnol. Oceanogr., 58(5), 2013, 1546-1556 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2013.58.5.1546

ABSTRACT: We examined the fate of larval fish assemblages after the East Australian Current (EAC) had separated from the coast and larval fish were advected eastward along the Tasman Front. There was no difference in the assemblages at four stations as the EAC meandered from the continental shelf to 220 km eastward. At a fifth station, we sampled a submesoscale, frontal eddy that had formed at the EAC separation zone 11 d earlier and had entrained shelf water. Zooplankton biomass was greater within the eddy compared to the adjacent shelf. The larval fish assemblage in the eddy was significantly different from all other stations. There was an order of magnitude greater abundance of three species characteristic of the shelf: sardine (Sardinops sagax; Clupeidae), blue mackerel (Scomber australasicus; Scombridae), and yellowtail scad (Trachurus novaezelandiae; Carangidae), which were also significantly larger than larvae from a station on the adjacent shelf. In particular, S. sagax in the eddy were ∼ 5 mm longer and ∼ 10 d older, although growth rates were similar. Larval retention in the eddy was inferred from the co-occurrence of small and large larvae of all three species compared to the adjacent shelf. The EAC is only 20–30 km from the inner-shelf water, where frontal eddies may facilitate three stages of successful recruitment: entrainment, enrichment, and retention. Frontal eddies off southeastern Australia entrain preconditioned shelf water, move slower than the mean flow of the EAC, decreasing transport rates, and may sustain planktonic communities through eddy uplift. These eddies are frequent and short-lived (2 to 4 weeks), and we suspect they are of fisheries importance as their duration is sufficient for fish larvae to complete their early life history and, presumably, recruit back to the coast.

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