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An ecosystem model of an exploited southern Mediterranean shelf region (Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia) and a comparison with other Mediterranean ecosystem model properties

May 30, 2013

In this paper, we describe an exploited continental shelf ecosystem (Gulf of Gabes) in the southern Mediterranean Sea using an Ecopath mass-balance model. This allowed us to determine the structure and functioning of this ecosystem and assess the impacts of fishing upon it. The model represents the average state of the ecosystem between 2000 and 2005. It includes 41 functional groups, which encompass the entire trophic spectrum from phytoplankton to higher trophic levels (e.g., fishes, birds, and mammals), and also considers the fishing activities in the area (five fleets). Model results highlight an important bentho-pelagic coupling in the system due to the links between plankton and benthic invertebrates through detritus. A comparison of this model with those developed for other continental shelf regions in the Mediterranean (i.e., the southern Catalan, the northern-central Adriatic, and the northern Aegean Seas) emphasizes similar patterns in their trophic functioning. Low and medium trophic levels (i.e., zooplankton, benthic molluscs, and polychaetes) and sharks were identified as playing key ecosystem roles and were classified as keystone groups. An analysis of ecosystem attributes indicated that the Gulf of Gabes is the least mature (i.e., in the earliest stages of ecosystem development) of the four ecosystems that were compared and it is suggested that this is due, at least in part, to the impacts of fishing. Bottom trawling was identified as having the widest-ranging impacts across the different functional groups and the largest impacts on some commercially-targeted demersal fish species. Several exploitation indices highlighted that the Gulf of Gabes ecosystem is highly exploited, a finding which is supported by stock assessment outcomes. This suggests that it is unlikely that the gulf can be fished at sustainable levels, a situation which is similar to other marine ecosystems in the Mediterranean Sea.

Hattab T, Ben Rais Lasram F, Albouy C, Romdhane M S, Jarboui O, Halouani G, Cury P, Le Loc’h F, in press. An ecosystem model of an exploited southern Mediterranean shelf region (Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia) and a comparison with other Mediterranean ecosystem model properties, Journal of Marine Systems, 2013, doi:10.1016/j.jmarsys.2013.04.017. Article.

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