Variability in the high mortality rate during early life stages is considered to be one of the principal determinants of year-class variability in fish stocks. The influence of water column stability on the spatial distribution of fish larvae and their prey is widely acknowledged. Water column stability may also impact growth through the early life history of fishes, and consequently alter the probability of survival to maturity by limiting susceptibility to predation and starvation. As a test of this concept, the variability in condition and growth of dab (Limanda limanda) and sprat (Sprattus sprattus) larvae was investigated in relation to seasonal stratification of the water column in the north-western Irish Sea. RNA/DNA ratios and otolith microincrement analysis were used to estimate nutritional status and recent growth rates of larvae captured on four cruises in May and June of 1998 and 1999. Dab and sprat larvae were less abundant in 1999 and were in poorer condition with lower growth rates than in 1998. Dab larvae of
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