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Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) occurs on both sides of the north Atlantic and has traditionally been grouped into 5 spawning components, some of which were thought to be isolated natal homing stocks. Previous studies have provided no evidence for cross Atlantic migration and no or weak support for isolated spawning components within either side of the North Atlantic. We question the de-facto accepted hypothesis of isolation between spawning components on the basis of spawning and age distribution data. The spawning intensities, proxied by larval abundances, are negatively correlated between the North Sea and Celtic Sea, which indicates that the two spawning components may be connected by straying individuals. This finding is based on unique larvae samples collected before the collapse of North Sea component, thus showing that the exchange is not a recent phenomenon due to the collapse. The analyses of old as well as more recent age distributions show that strong year classes spread into other areas where they spawn as adults (“twinning”). Our findings are in accordance with the lack of solid evidence for stock separation from previous analyses of tagging data, genetics, ectoparasite infections, otolith shapes, and blood phenotypes. Because no method has been able to identify the origin of spawning mackerel unequivocally from any of the traditional spawning components, and in the light of our results, we conclude that straying outweighs spatial segregation. We propose a new model where the population structure of mackerel is described as a dynamic cline, rather than as connected contingents. Temporal changes in hydrography and mackerel behavior may affect the steepness of the cline at various locations. The new interpretation of the population structure of Atlantic mackerel has important implications for research, assessment and management
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