Size-based indicators show depth-dependent change over time in the deep sea


Size-based indicators are well established as a management tool in shelf seas as they respond to changes in fishing pressure and describe important aspects of community function. In the deep sea, however, vital rates are much slower and body size relationships vary with depth, making it less clear how size-based indicators can be applied and whether they are appropriate for detecting changes through time. The deep-sea fish stocks of the North Atlantic underwent a period of exploitation followed by management and conservation action that relieved this pressure. We used data from a deep-water bottom trawl survey in the Rockall Trough, at depths of 300–2000 m, to test whether size-based indicators changed over a 16-year period, during which fishing pressure decreased. We applied four indicators to these data: mean body length, mean maximum length, large fish indicator (LFI), and the slope of the biomass spectrum. Patterns were analysed within four different depth bands. The LFI and slope of the biomass spectrum showed positive change over time, suggesting recovery from fishing pressure. This response was generally most apparent in the shallowest depth band, where most fishing activity has been distributed. Values of the LFI were much higher overall than in shelf seas, so the same reference points cannot be applied to all marine ecosystems. These findings imply that size-based indicators can be usefully applied to the deep sea and that they potentially track changes in fishing pressure in the medium term.

ICES Journal of Marine Science