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Portfolio theory as a management tool to guide conservation and restoration of multi-stock fish populations

December 1, 2015

Habitat degradation and harvest have upset the natural buffering mechanism (i.e., portfolio effects) of many large-scale multi-stock fisheries by reducing spawning stock diversity that is vital for generating population stability and resilience. The application of portfolio theory offers a means to guide management activities by quantifying the importance of multi-stock dynamics and suggesting conservation and restoration strategies to improve naturally occurring portfolio effects. Our application of portfolio theory to Lake Erie Sander vitreus (walleye), a large population that is supported by riverine and open-lake reef spawning stocks, has shown that portfolio effects generated by annual inter-stock larval fish production are currently suboptimal when compared to potential buffering capacity. Reduced production from riverine stocks has resulted in a single open-lake reef stock dominating larval production, and in turn, high inter-annual recruitment variability during recent years. Our analyses have shown (1) a weak average correlation between annual river and reef larval production (ρ̄ = 0.24), suggesting that a natural buffering capacity exists in the population, and (2) expanded annual production of larvae (potential recruits) from riverine stocks could stabilize the fishery by dampening inter-annual recruitment variation. Ultimately, our results demonstrate how portfolio theory can be used to quantify the importance of spawning stock diversity and guide management on ecologically relevant scales (i.e., spawning stocks) leading to greater stability and resilience of multi-stock populations and fisheries.

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