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Concept: Population dynamics of fisheries


Data from 4,713 fisheries worldwide, representing 78% of global reported fish catch, are analyzed to estimate the status, trends, and benefits of alternative approaches to recovering depleted fisheries. For each fishery, we estimate current biological status and forecast the impacts of contrasting management regimes on catch, profit, and biomass of fish in the sea. We estimate unique recovery targets and trajectories for each fishery, calculate the year-by-year effects of alternative recovery approaches, and model how alternative institutional reforms affect recovery outcomes. Current status is highly heterogeneous-the median fishery is in poor health (overfished, with further overfishing occurring), although 32% of fisheries are in good biological, although not necessarily economic, condition. Our business-as-usual scenario projects further divergence and continued collapse for many of the world’s fisheries. Applying sound management reforms to global fisheries in our dataset could generate annual increases exceeding 16 million metric tons (MMT) in catch, $53 billion in profit, and 619 MMT in biomass relative to business as usual. We also find that, with appropriate reforms, recovery can happen quickly, with the median fishery taking under 10 y to reach recovery targets. Our results show that commonsense reforms to fishery management would dramatically improve overall fish abundance while increasing food security and profits.

Concepts: Fisheries, Fishing, Catch and release, Overfishing, Population dynamics of fisheries, Fisheries management, Wild fisheries, Fishery


Anthropogenic disturbances are ubiquitous in the ocean, but their impacts on marine species are hotly debated. We evaluated marine fish statuses using conservation (Red List threatened or not) and fisheries (above or below reference points) metrics, compared their alignment, and diagnosed why discrepancies arise. Whereas only 13.5% of Red Listed marine fishes (n = 2952) are threatened, 40% and 21% of populations with stock assessments (n = 166) currently are below their more conservative and riskier reference points, respectively. Conservation and fisheries metrics aligned well (70.5% to 80.7%), despite their mathematical disconnect. Red Listings were not biased towards exaggerating threat status, and egregious errors, where populations were categorized at opposite extremes of fisheries and conservation metrics, were rare. Our analyses suggest conservation and fisheries scientists will agree on the statuses of exploited marine fishes in most cases, leaving only the question of appropriate management responses for populations of mutual concern still unresolved.

Concepts: Fish, Endangered species, Extinction, Ocean, Overfishing, Conservation, Population dynamics of fisheries, IUCN Red List


Conflict arises in fisheries worldwide when piscivorous birds target fish species of commercial value. This paper presents a method for estimating size selectivity functions for piscivores and uses it to compare predation selectivities of Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis L. 1758) with that of gill-net fishing on a European perch (Perca fluviatilis L. 1758) population in the Curonian Lagoon, Lithuania. Fishers often regard cormorants as an unwanted “satellite species”, but the degree of direct competition and overlap in size-specific selectivity between fishers and cormorants is unknown. This study showed negligible overlap in selectivity between Great Cormorants and legal-sized commercial nets. The selectivity estimation method has general application potential for use in conjunction with population dynamics models to assess fish population responses to size-selective fishing from a wide range of piscivorous predators.

Concepts: Bird, Seabird, Perch, Cormorant, Population dynamics of fisheries, Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax, Pelecaniformes


Forage fish support the largest fisheries in the world but also play key roles in marine food webs by transferring energy from plankton to upper trophic-level predators, such as large fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Fishing can, thereby, have far reaching consequences on marine food webs unless safeguards are in place to avoid depleting forage fish to dangerously low levels, where dependent predators are most vulnerable. However, disentangling the contributions of fishing vs. natural processes on population dynamics has been difficult because of the sensitivity of these stocks to environmental conditions. Here, we overcome this difficulty by collating population time series for forage fish populations that account for nearly two-thirds of global catch of forage fish to identify the fingerprint of fisheries on their population dynamics. Forage fish population collapses shared a set of common and unique characteristics: high fishing pressure for several years before collapse, a sharp drop in natural population productivity, and a lagged response to reduce fishing pressure. Lagged response to natural productivity declines can sharply amplify the magnitude of naturally occurring population fluctuations. Finally, we show that the magnitude and frequency of collapses are greater than expected from natural productivity characteristics and therefore, likely attributed to fishing. The durations of collapses, however, were not different from those expected based on natural productivity shifts. A risk-based management scheme that reduces fishing when populations become scarce would protect forage fish and their predators from collapse with little effect on long-term average catches.

Concepts: Fish, Fisheries, Forage fish, Population dynamics of fisheries


When searching for food, foraging fishes expose themselves to hidden predators. The strategies that maximize the survival of foraging fishes are not well understood. Here, we describe a novel type of mobbing behaviour displayed by foraging Scolopsis affinis. The fish direct sharp water jets towards the hidden sessile annelid predator Eunice aphroditois (Bobbit worm). We recognized two different behavioural roles for mobbers (i.e., initiator and subsequent participants). The first individual to exhibit behaviour indicating the discovery of the Bobbit directed, absolutely and per time unit, more water jets than the subsequent individuals that joined the mobbing. We found evidence that the mobbing impacted the behaviour of the Bobbit, e.g., by inducing retraction. S. affinis individuals either mob alone or form mobbing groups. We speculate that this behaviour may provide social benefits for its conspecifics by securing foraging territories for S. affinis. Our results reveal a sophisticated and complex behavioural strategy to protect against a hidden predator.

Concepts: Predation, Annelids, Zooplankton, Population dynamics of fisheries, Mobbing behavior, Starfish, Danny Trejo, Eunicidae


Global marine fisheries are currently underperforming, largely due to overfishing. An analysis of global databases finds that resource rent net of subsidies from rebuilt world fisheries could increase from the current negative US$13 billion to positive US$54 billion per year, resulting in a net gain of US$600 to US$1,400 billion in present value over fifty years after rebuilding. To realize this gain, governments need to implement a rebuilding program at a cost of about US$203 (US$130-US$292) billion in present value. We estimate that it would take just 12 years after rebuilding begins for the benefits to surpass the cost. Even without accounting for the potential boost to recreational fisheries, and ignoring ancillary and non-market values that would likely increase, the potential benefits of rebuilding global fisheries far outweigh the costs.

Concepts: Fisheries, Fishing, Overfishing, Population dynamics of fisheries, Fisheries management, Wild fisheries, Fishery, Ocean fisheries


Natal philopatry, the return of individuals to their natal area for reproduction, has advantages and disadvantages for animal populations. Natal philopatry may generate local genetic adaptation, but it may also increase the probability of inbreeding that can compromise persistence. Although natal philopatry is well documented in anadromous fishes, marine fish may also return to their birth site to spawn. How philopatry shapes wild fish populations is, however, unclear because it requires constructing multigenerational pedigrees that are currently lacking for marine fishes. Here we present the first multigenerational pedigree for a marine fish population by repeatedly genotyping all individuals in a population of the orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) at Kimbe Island (Papua New Guinea) during a 10-y period. Based on 2927 individuals, our pedigree analysis revealed that longitudinal philopatry was recurrent over five generations. Progeny tended to settle close to their parents, with related individuals often sharing the same colony. However, successful inbreeding was rare, and genetic diversity remained high, suggesting occasional inbreeding does not impair local population persistence. Local reproductive success was dependent on the habitat larvae settled into, rather than the habitat they came from. Our study suggests that longitudinal philopatry can influence both population replenishment and local adaptation of marine fishes. Resolving multigenerational pedigrees during a relatively short period, as we present here, provides a framework for assessing the ability of marine populations to persist and adapt to accelerating climate change.

Concepts: Fish, Population genetics, Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea, Pomacentridae, Population dynamics of fisheries, Clownfish, Orange clownfish


Concerns over fishing impacts on marine populations and ecosystems have intensified the need to improve ocean management. One increasingly popular market-based instrument for ecological stewardship is the use of certification and eco-labeling programs to highlight sustainable fisheries with low environmental impacts. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the most prominent of these programs. Despite widespread discussions about the rigor of the MSC standards, no comprehensive analysis of the performance of MSC-certified fish stocks has yet been conducted. We compared status and abundance trends of 45 certified stocks with those of 179 uncertified stocks, finding that 74% of certified fisheries were above biomass levels that would produce maximum sustainable yield, compared with only 44% of uncertified fisheries. On average, the biomass of certified stocks increased by 46% over the past 10 years, whereas uncertified fisheries increased by just 9%. As part of the MSC process, fisheries initially go through a confidential pre-assessment process. When certified fisheries are compared with those that decline to pursue full certification after pre-assessment, certified stocks had much lower mean exploitation rates (67% of the rate producing maximum sustainable yield vs. 92% for those declining to pursue certification), allowing for more sustainable harvesting and in many cases biomass rebuilding. From a consumer’s point of view this means that MSC-certified seafood is 3-5 times less likely to be subject to harmful fishing than uncertified seafood. Thus, MSC-certification accurately identifies healthy fish stocks and conveys reliable information on stock status to seafood consumers.

Concepts: Fish, Ecology, Seafood, Fishing, Overfishing, Economics terminology, Population dynamics of fisheries, Fish stock


For many marine species and habitats, climate change and overfishing present a double threat. To manage marine resources effectively, it is necessary to adapt management to changes in the physical environment. Simple relationships between environmental conditions and fish abundance have long been used in both fisheries and fishery management. In many cases, however, physical, biological, and human variables feed back on each other. For these systems, associations between variables can change as the system evolves in time. This can obscure relationships between population dynamics and environmental variability, undermining our ability to forecast changes in populations tied to physical processes. Here we present a methodology for identifying physical forcing variables based on nonlinear forecasting and show how the method provides a predictive understanding of the influence of physical forcing on Pacific sardine.

Concepts: Ecology, Future, Natural environment, Forecasting, Overfishing, Population dynamics of fisheries, Fisheries management, Fishery


Fishing and climate change impact the demography of marine fishes, but it is generally ignored that many species are made up of genetically distinct locally adapted populations that may show idiosyncratic responses to environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Here, we track 80 years of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) population dynamics in West Greenland using DNA from archived otoliths in combination with fish population and niche based modeling. We document how the interacting effects of climate change and high fishing pressure lead to dramatic spatiotemporal changes in the proportions and abundance of different genetic populations, and eventually drove the cod fishery to a collapse in the early 1970s. Our results highlight the relevance of fisheries management at the level of genetic populations under future scenarios of climate change.

Concepts: Biology, Atlantic Ocean, Cod, Gadidae, Overfishing, Population dynamics of fisheries, Atlantic cod, Fishery