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Regional differences in oceanic migratory behavior of Japanese silver eel in waters with different vertical temperature gradients

Abe, T. K., Galang, I., Daryani, A., Minamikawa, S., Mochioka, N. and Hakoyama, H.

Background: The Japanese eel Anguilla japonica has a single spawning area on the west coast of the Mariana Islands, and the larvae disperse widely via the North Equatorial Current and the Kuroshio Current to freshwater and coastal areas of East Asia for nursery and growth habitats. Spawning adults reared in their respective habitats begin their migration to spawn from September to February, but little is known about regional differences in migration routes, their contribution to spawning populations, or their migratory behavior. To better understand the spawning migrations of Japanese eels, we tracked adult migratory stage eels (silver eels) captured in coastal areas of three regions (Tokai region, Sea of Japan coastline, and Tohoku region) from October 2019 to February 2020 using pop-up satellite archival tags. Results: Twenty-three tagged eels were released in each coastal area, and data were collected on 15 eels for a maximum of 59 days. Eels released in the Tokai region migrated southeast along the Kuroshio Current. On the other hand, eels on the Sea of Japan coastline and in the Tohoku region tended to migrate westward and southward against the ocean current, respectively, but no eels from either region reached waters near the Kuroshio Current. In addition, the present study found region-specific vertical movement patterns among the eels. Eels from the Tokai region showed typical diurnal vertical movements, while an eel from the Sea of Japan coastline repeated non-diurnal vertical movements, which was attributed to regional differences in bathymetry and water mass structure. Except for one eel suspected of being preyed upon, all other eels did not venture into depth zones with temperatures below 4 ∘C, thus suggesting that the maximum depth of vertical movement is limited by water temperature. Conclusions: This study provided new insights into the migratory behavior of Japanese silver eel from the Sea of Japan coastline and the Tohoku region, but further long-term tracking is required to reveal the fate of the spawning adults from the coast of Japan.

Key Words: Pop-up satellite archival tags, Japanese eel, Spawning migration, Diel vertical migration