Pelagic longline fisheries target (or catch incidently) large apex predators in the open ocean (e.g. tunas, billfish and sharks) and have the potential to disrupt the ecosystem functionality if these predators exert strong top–down control. In contrast, warming of oceans from climate change may increase bottom–up effects from increases in primary productivity. An ecosystem model of a large pelagic ecosystem off eastern Australia was constructed to explore the potential ecological effects of climate change and longlining by Australia’s Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery. The model reproduced historic biomass and fishery catch trends from 1952 to 2006 for seven functional groups. Simulated changes in fishing effort and fishing mortality rate on individual target species from 2008 to 2018 resulted in only modest (<20%) changes in the biomass of target species and their direct predators or competitors. A simulated increase in phytoplankton biomass due to climate change resulted in only small increases (<11%) in the biomass of all groups. However, climate-related changes to the biomass of micronekton fish (−20%) and cephalopods (+50%) resulted in trophic cascades. Our results suggest there may be ecological redundancy among high trophic level predators since they share a diverse suite of prey and collectively only represent <1% of the total system biomass. In contrast, micronekton fishes and cephalopods have high biomasses and high production and consumption rates and are important as both prey and predators. They appear to exert ‘wasp–waist’ control of the ecosystem rather than top–down or bottom–up processes reported to drive other pelagic systems.
Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 21, 2010
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