Journal Article

Changes in the North Sea fish community: evidence of indirect effects of fishing?

Niels Daan, Henrik Gislason, John G. Pope and Jake C. Rice

in ICES Journal of Marine Science

Published on behalf of ICES/CIEM

Volume 62, issue 2, pages 177-188
Published in print January 2005 | ISSN: 1054-3139
Published online January 2005 | e-ISSN: 1095-9289 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.icesjms.2004.08.020
Changes in the North Sea fish community: evidence of indirect effects of fishing?

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We investigate changes in the North Sea fish community with particular reference to possible indirect effects of fishing, mediated through the ecosystem. In the past, long-term changes in the slope of size spectra of research vessel catches have been related to changes in fishing effort, but such changes may simply reflect the cumulative, direct effects of fishing through selective removal of large individuals. If there is resilience in a fish community towards fishing, we may expect increases in specific components, for instance as a consequence of an associated reduction in predation and/or competition. We show on the basis of three long-term trawl surveys that abundance of small fish (all species) as well as abundance of demersal species with a low maximum length (Lmax) have steadily and significantly increased in absolute numbers over large parts of the North Sea during the last 30 years. Taking average fishing mortality of assessed commercial species as an index of exploitation rate of the fish community, it appears that fishing effort reached its maximum in the mid-1980s and has declined slightly since. If the observed changes in the community are caused by indirect effects of fishing, there must be a considerable delay in response time, because the observed changes generally proceed up to recent years, although both size and Lmax spectra suggest some levelling off, or even recovery in one of the surveys. Indeed, significant correlations between all community metrics and exploitation rate were obtained only if time lags ≥6 years were introduced.

Keywords: community metrics; direct and indirect effects of fishing; Lmax spectra; size spectra

Journal Article.  6882 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental Science ; Marine and Estuarine Biology

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