Frank, K. T., Leggett, W. C., Petrie, B., Fisher, J. A. D., Shackell, N. L., and Taggart, C. T. 2013. Pelagic fish outbreak in the Northwest Atlantic - reality or illusion? – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 70: . The collapse of Northwest Atlantic groundfish in the early 1990s yielded a "natural experiment" within which to explore responses of ecosystems to a major perturbation. The "Pelagic Outburst" hypothesis was developed to explain an up to 900% increase in the abundance of small-bodied forage fishes and macroinvertebrates following this collapse and a subsequent trophic cascade extending across four trophic levels. Recently, this theory has been challenged and an alternative "Suprabenthic Habitat Occupation" (SHO) hypothesis has been advanced; it proposes the prey outburst associated with the forage fish component was an illusion created by changes in the vertical distribution of small pelagic fishes after the cod collapse in favour of a more bottom-oriented distribution that increased their vulnerability to bottom trawls. We evaluated the SHO hypothesis as it applied to the relationship between changes in the biomass of cod and the vertical distribution of herring and sand lance, the major small pelagic species of the Scotian Shelf ecosystem off eastern Nova Scotia. Contrary to predictions of the SHO hypothesis our initial conclusion that a pelagic outburst occurred in that ecosystem was confirmed and we found no evidence of a predator effect on vertical distributions of these species. We also explored the acoustic survey design and execution that generated the data that form the cornerstone of the SHO hypothesis, and the coherence between the behaviour depicted in these data and catch rates in the surface-oriented purse-seine fishery for herring operating at the time of these surveys. In combination, the results of our re-analysis of the population dynamics and behaviour of herring on the eastern Scotian Shelf, lead us to conclude that the SHO hypothesis, at least as it relates to the post-cod collapse dynamics of the affected Northwest Atlantic ecosystems, is not supported.