Cephalopod and groundfish landings: evidence for ecological change in global fisheries?
Cephalopod fisheries are among the few still with some local potential for expansion; in fact, as groundfish landings have declined globally, cephalopod landings have increased. We propose the hypothesis that, although increased cephalopod landings may partly reflect increased market demand, overfishing groundfish stocks has positively affected cephalopod populations. Data from 15 key FAO areas reveal that, with the exception of the north- east Atlantic, cephalopod landings have increased significantly over the last 25 years while groundfish have risen more slowly, remained stable, or declined. In terms of volume, cephalopods have not replaced groundfish. This is hypothesized as owing to the shorter life cycle of cephalopods, and rapid turnover and lower standing stocks than for longer-lived finfish species. Under high fishing pressure, groundfish are probably poor competitors, having less opportunity for spawning and replacement. In West Africa, the Gulf of Thailand and Adriatic there is strong circumstantial evidence that fishing pressure has changed ecological conditions and cephalopod stocks have increased as predatory fish have declined. We recommend that this hypothesis be tested thoroughly in other areas where suitable data exist. Most coastal and shelf cephalopod fisheries are likely to be fully exploited or overexploited, and current annual fluctuations in cephalopod landings are probably largely environmentally-driven.