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In this study, hydroacoustic data collected with a scientific echosounder working at two frequencies (38 and 120 kHz) over the continental shelf off the southern Sicilian coast were used in order to investigate the relationship between fish schools and plankton patches. Specifically, image analysis algorithms were applied to raw echograms in order to detect and characterise pelagic fish schools and plankton aggregations, considered as a proxy of food availability. The relationship was first investigated using estimated total plankton biomass over the whole water column and, second, by dividing the study area into three sub-regions and further distinguishing plankton patches between the surface and the bottom. In the relatively lower plankton abundance areas of Zone 1 (northern sector of the study area), results showed an inverse relationship between the biomass (and density) of fish schools and the biomass of co-occurring plankton patches located close to the bottom. Instead, over the Sicilian-Maltese shelf (Zone 3), characterised by higher plankton abundances, a direct relationship was found when using plankton data from the whole water column. The observed difference between Zones 1 and 3 is probably due to diverse dominant fish species in the two sub-regions.
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