Many commercial fish stocks are beginning to recover under more sustainable exploitation regimes. In this study, we document the temporal and spatial changes in one remarkable example of stock recovery: northern European hake (Merluccius merluccius). Analysing data from several scientific surveys, we document a dramatic increase in estimates of biomass between 2004 and 2011 throughout the larger area now occupied by the stock. The largest increase occurred in the North Sea, where hake have been largely absent for over 50 years. Spatio-temporally resolved commercial landings show that high densities occur in the North Sea only between April and September, suggesting a density-dependent seasonal habitat expansion to suitable temperature and depth conditions. These changes have implications for the management of the stock which are discussed. Notably, if discards are banned as part of management revisions, the relatively low quota for hake in the North Sea will be a limiting factor (the so-called ‘choke’ species) which may result in a premature closure of the entire demersal mixed fishery in the North Sea, jeopardizing many commercial fisheries in the region. This example of the unforeseen consequences of improved stewardship highlight the need for a more holistic, regional and responsive approach to managing our marine ecosystems.
Bibliographical noteDate of Acceptance: 28/01/2014
The authors wish to thank Rui Catarino, Henrik Degel, Mike Heath and Nick Bailey for their contributions. This study was funded by the Seventh Framework Programme as part of the European research project EcoFishMan (Grant No. FP7-265401). Paul Fernandes receives funding from the MASTS pooling initiative (The Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland) and their support is gratefully acknowledged. MASTS is funded by the Scottish Funding Council (grant reference HR09011) and contributing institutions.The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Seventh Framework Programme as part of the European research project EcoFishMan. Grant Number: FP7-265401
The Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland
Scottish Funding Council. Grant Number: HR09011
- choke species
- European hake
- fish stock recovery
- fisheries management