It is generally assumed that fish populations are regulated primarily in the juvenile (pre-recruit) phase of the life cycle, although density dependence in growth and reproductive parameters within the recruited phase has been widely reported. Here we present evidence to suggest that density-dependent growth in the recruited phase is a key process in the regulation of many fish populations. We analyse 16 fish populations with long-term records of size-at-age and biomass data, and detect significant density-dependent growth in nine. Among-population comparisons show a close, inverse relationship between the estimated decline in asymptotic length per unit biomass density, and the long-term average biomass density of populations. A simple population model demonstrates that regulation by density-dependent growth alone is sufficient to generate the observed relationship. Density-dependent growth should be accounted for in fisheries' assessments, and the empirical relationship established here can provide indicative estimates of the density-dependent growth parameter where population-specific data are lacking.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences (2002) 269: 49-54 [doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1853]