MEPS 512:115-140 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10821

Trophic level-based indicators to track fishing impacts across marine ecosystems

Lynne Shannon1,*, Marta Coll2,12, Alida Bundy3, Didier Gascuel4, Johanna J. Heymans5, Kristin Kleisner6,7, Christopher P. Lynam8, Chiara Piroddi9, Jorge Tam10, Morgane Travers-Trolet11, Yunne Shin12,1

1Marine Research Institute and Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
2Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, 37-49, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
3Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Ocean Ecosystem Science, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada
4Université Européenne de Bretagne, Agrocampus Ouest, UMR985 Écologie et santé des écosystèmes,
65 route de Saint Brieuc, CS 8421, 35042 Rennes cedex, France
5Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute, Oban, Argyll PA371QA, UK
6Sea Around Us Project, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada
7National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543-1026, USA
8Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk NR33 0HT, UK
9Joint Research Centre, European Commission, Via E. Fermi 2749, Ispra (VA) 21027, Italy
10Instituto del Mar del Perú (IMARPE), Esquina Gamarra y Gral. Valle s/n, Apartado 22, Callao, Lima, Peru
11IFREMER, Fisheries Laboratory, 150 quai Gambetta, BP699, 62321 Boulogne/mer, France
12Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), UMR EME 212, CRH, avenue Jean Monnet, CS 30171,
34203 Sète cedex, France
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Trophic level (TL)-based indicators have been widely used to examine fishing impacts in aquatic ecosystems and the induced biodiversity changes. However, much debate has ensued regarding discrepancies and challenges arising from the use of landings data from commercial fisheries to calculate TL indicators. Subsequent studies have started to examine survey-based and model-based indicators. In this paper, we undertake an extensive evaluation of a variety of TL indicators across 9 well-studied marine ecosystems by making use of model- as well as survey- and catch-based TL indicators. Using detailed regional information and data on fishing history, fishing intensity, and environmental conditions, we evaluate how well TL indicators are capturing fishing effects at the community level of marine ecosystems. Our results highlight that the differences observed between TL indicator values and trends is dependent on the data source and the TL cut-off point used in the calculations and is not attributable to an intrinsic problem with TL-based indicators. All 3 data sources provide useful information about the structural changes in the ecosystem as a result of fishing, but our results indicate that only model-based indicators represent fishing impacts at the whole ecosystem level.


KEY WORDS: Trophic level · Global comparison · Indicator · Survey · Catch · Ecosystem model · Trophic spectra · Convention on Biological Diversity · Food webs · Ecosystem approach to fisheries


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Cite this article as: Shannon L, Coll M, Bundy A, Gascuel D and others (2014) Trophic level-based indicators to track fishing impacts across marine ecosystems. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 512:115-140. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10821

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