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The role of fisheries and the environment in driving the decline of elasmobranchs in the northern Adriatic Sea

January 23, 2014

Elasmobranch populations are declining worldwide, calling for urgent assessment of fishery exploitation and application of effective conservation strategies. Here, we applied a novel approach, integrating long-term time-series of landings (1945–2012) and extensive surveys at the fish market of Chioggia, Italy, home of the major fishing fleet of the northern Adriatic Sea, to evaluate the status of elasmobranch populations and fisheries in the one of the most fished Mediterranean basins. The time-series highlight a dramatic decline in elasmobranch landings, particularly for skates and catsharks (Scyliorhinus spp.), whose current catch rates are 2.4 and 10.6% of the average 1940s levels, respectively. These data likely reflect similar large reductions in abundance, as indicated by the analysis of catch-per unit-effort time-series. The biomass of landed skates and catsharks showed regular fluctuations that disappeared after the collapse of the landings. Elasmobranch market composition, assessed through the sampling of 11 900 specimens from 2006 to 2013, included 14 species, but was dominated by just two: Mustelus mustelus and M. punctulatus, which represented more than 60% of the catch. The proportion of sexually immature individuals was generally very high, up to 83% of landed females and 71% of landed males, depending on the species. Although some correlations were detected between landings and local hydrography or climatic indices, the analyses of landings and surveys at the fish market identified fishery exploitation as the main driver of the striking, long-term elasmobranch decline in the northern Adriatic Sea, calling for urgent management actions to improve the conservation status of these fish.

Barausse A, Correale V, Curkovic A, Finotto L, Riginella E, Visentin E, Mazzoldi C, in press. The role of fisheries and the environment in driving the decline of elasmobranchs in the northern Adriatic Sea, ICES Journal of Marine Science, doi.10.1093/icesjms/fst222. Article.

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