Can small pelagic fish landings be used as predictors of high-frequency oceanographic fluctuations in the 1–2 El Niño region?
Abstract. A group of small pelagic fish captured between 1981 and 2012 within El Niño area 1–2 by the Ecuadorian fleet was correlated with the oceanographic Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI), and the Oceanographic El Niño Index (ONI) referred to El Niño region 3–4. For the period 1981–2012, total landings correlated poorly with the indexes, but during 2000–2012 (cold PDO) they proved to have a 14–29 % association with both indexes; the negative slope of the curves suggested higher landing during cold events (La Niña) and also indicated a tendency to decrease at extreme values ( > 0.5 and < −1.0). Round herring (Etrumeus teres) fourth-quarter (Q4) landings were related to the MEI in a nonlinear analysis by up to 80 %. During moderate or strong La Niña events landings noticeably increased. Bullet tuna (Auxis spp.) catches showed a negative gradient from cold to warm episodes with an R2 of 0.149. For Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi) irregular landings between 2003 and 2007 were observed and were poorly correlated (R2 < 0.1) with ONI or MEI. Anchovy (Engraulis ringens) captured in Ecuadorian waters since 2000 had an R2 of 0.302 and 0.156 for MEI and ONI, respectively, but showed a higher correlation with the cold Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). South American pilchard (Sardinops sagax) was higher than −0.5 for the ONI and MEI, and landings dramatically decreased; however, Q4 landings correlated with ONI and MEI, with R2 of 0.109 and 0.225, respectively (n = 3). Linear correlation of Q4 indexes against the following year's Q1 landings had a linkage of up to 22 %; this species could therefore be considered a predictor of El Niño. Chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus) landings did not have a significant linear correlation with the indexes for 1981–2012 and therefore could not be considered a valid predictor. Chuhueco (Cetengraulis mysticetus) is a local species with high landings during El Niño years and, conversely, remarkably low landings during La Niña years. Additionally, chuhueco availability and landings were negatively affected by cold PDOs. Pacific thread herring (Opisthonema spp.) showed a 24 and 36 % relationship between landings (Q1) and the MEI and ONI (Q4). Therefore, results suggest that the South American pilchard and Pacific thread herring could be considered good species to use as predictors of El Niño in region 1–2 (Ecuador), especially when average Q4 MEI ∕ ONI is used against the next trimester Q1 landing. All species were prone to lower landings and/or fishing availability during strong–extreme events (ONI/MEI, > 1.0 and < −1.0), and were also shown to be affected by the PDO. In the long term, landings decreased under warm PDO and vice versa, and therefore PDO fluctuations could be used to help manage these fisheries and to help the industry in long-term planning.