Shifting baselines in a Mediterranean small-scale fishery

Ocean and Coastal Management

The overexploitation of marine resources has led to a decrease in species abundance over time in many marine ecosystems worldwide. But as new fishers arise throughout the years, the perception of local abundance changes which might result in a “shifting baselines syndrome”. We investigated how the perception of fishers about species abundance changed through time (from 1970 to 2016) and space (five ports), through questionnaires in the small-scale/artisanal fisheries of Murcia, Spain. Two major results emerged, firstly species catches significantly decreased between the decades 1970–1990 and 2000–2016, possibly due to overfishing and habitat degradation. Catches of species with some particular functional traits decreased (96%) possibly due to lower plasticity or to a “fishing down the food web” effect. Secondly, some functional trait categories (very large size, deep water depth, large yearly displacements and very vagile) were the highest in the northern ports of San Pedro del Pinatar and Cartagena while Cabo de Palos had the highest values in species with solitary and territorial behaviour and vagile or sedentary mobility. Fishers’ perception of catch trends of commercial species seemed aligned with other sources of information for this area and might be key information in the absence of more quantitative information.

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