Long-term changes in deep-water fish populations in the northeast Atlantic: a deeper reaching effect of fisheries?
A severe scarcity of life history and population data for deep-water fishes is a major impediment to successful fisheries management. Long-term data for non-target species and those living deeper than the fishing grounds are particularly rare. We analysed a unique dataset of scientific trawls made from 1977 to 1989 and from 1997 to 2002, at depths from 800 to 4800 m. Over this time, overall fish abundance fell significantly at all depths from 800 to 2500 m, considerably deeper than the maximum depth of commercial fishing (approx. 1600 m). Changes in abundance were significantly larger in species whose ranges fell at least partly within fished depths and did not appear to be consistent with any natural factors such as changes in fluxes from the surface or the abundance of potential prey. If the observed decreases in abundance are due to fishing, then its effects now extend into the lower bathyal zone, resulting in declines in areas that have been previously thought to be unaffected. A possible mechanism is impacts on the shallow parts of the ranges of fish species, resulting in declines in abundance in the lower parts of their ranges. This unexpected phenomenon has important consequences for fisheries and marine reserve management, as this would indicate that the impacts of fisheries can be transmitted into deep offshore areas that are neither routinely monitored nor considered as part of the managed fishery areas.