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Community size spectra provide indicators within recovering fisheries ecosystems on the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf

Kyle J. Krumsick*, Jonathan A. D. Fisher

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Species- and size-selective overexploitation often have ecosystem-wide impacts that are evident in community size-spectra. To both derive potential ecosystem targets for community rebuilding and assess contemporary indicators relative to these targets, we constructed theoretical size-spectra to predict pristine biomass densities using a combination of species- and size-specific nitrogen stable isotope signatures and a range of trophic efficiencies and primary productivity estimates within and among three sub-regions of the Newfoundland and Labrador shelf. Theoretical size-spectra were compared to empirically-derived size spectra using trawl survey data. The descending slopes of the empirically determined size spectra were between 1.25 and 2.42 times steeper than the theoretical slopes. The percentage of the theoretical distribution represented by the empirical size structure ranged between 1.1 and 29.4%, with the closest and furthest estimates associated with smallest and largest sized fishes, respectively, and strongly influenced by estimates of trophic efficiency and primary productivity. Regional variation was also observed with southern regions reaching 1.3 – 32.3% of the theoretical biomass density and the northernmost region only 0 – 8.3%. Importantly, the descending slopes varied depending on fish size, with biomass density of larger sizes decreasing faster than smaller sizes. Variations among sub-regions and fish guilds were also observed. These analyses provide a means to derive potential ecosystem targets and indicators through which recovery of fish communities can be monitored and assessed.