Utility of Chemical Tracer Tags in the Delineation of Foraging Grounds of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Ashok Deshpande, NOAA Fisheries - Sandy Hook, New Jersey


Researchers have utilized chemical fingerprints in the determination of habitat utilization and movements of the aquatic animals. In the present effort, we analyzed polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congeners and organochlorine pesticides in the samples of juvenile bluefin tuna caught offshore of Virginia, and in larger bluefin tuna from the Gulf of Maine and near Nova Scotia. For a given specimen, or a given location, PCB concentrations were highest, followed by DDTs, and chlordanes. Average contaminant concentrations from fish captured from the three locations were not significantly different; and PCBs, DDTs, and chlordanes correlated well with each other. Trans-nonachlor/PCB 153 ratios in bluefin tuna of eastern Atlantic (i.e., Mediterranean) origin are low compared to the corresponding ratios in fish in the western Atlantic. As the former migrate to the western Atlantic, these ratios gradually turnover due to the accumulation of biomass from forage contaminated with higher trans-nonachlor/PCB 153 ratio reflecting dissimilar use of chlordane pesticides on two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The trans-nonachlor/

PCB 153 ratio indicated that one juvenile bluefin tuna from offshore of Virginia and one large bluefin tuna from Gulf of Maine in the present study originated from foraging grounds in the Mediterranean Sea, and that they have made the trans-Atlantic migrations. The remaining individuals were determined to be either spawned in the Gulf of Mexico or the trans-nonachlor/PCB 153 ratio for the putative Mediterranean bluefin tuna was completely turned over to resemble the ratio characteristic to the western Atlantic. Based on the turnover time for trans-nonachlor/PCB 153 ratio previously determined, the residence time of juvenile bluefin tuna in offshore Virginia was estimated to be at least 0.8 to 1.6 years. A discriminant function analysis (DFA) plot of total PCB normalized signatures of PCB congeners showed three separate clusters, which suggested that bluefin tuna from offshore Virginia, Gulf of Maine, and Nova Scotia could have had extended residences and foraging within the areas of capture to be able to sustain the stable signatures of PCB congeners. The DFA cluster results supported the concept of metapopulation theory of spatial ecology comprising discrete aggregates of local populations of bluefin tuna where the desired prey species are likely to be abundant. Despite their highly migratory trait and endothermic advantage of foraging in broader and colder habitats, the movements and mixing across the aggregation ranges related to feeding did not appear to be extensive. Advancement in the understanding of bluefin tuna population dynamics beyond the coarse concept of trans-Atlantic migrations to the metapopulation hypothesis provides a novel exploratory tool in the stock assessment and resource management. As the chemical tracer tags are fortified naturally, and document the time- and space-integrated foraging history, they promise to serve as the low-cost alternatives to the high-cost electronic data recording tags employed for addressing the migratory movements of bluefin tuna. Between the different potential chemical tracer tags, a distinct advantage of PCB/pesticide analysis over the otolith micro-constituent analysis is that the muscle tissue of a given individual bluefin tuna can be sampled repeatedly for PCB/pesticide analysis over different spatial and temporal scales in a nonlethal manner.