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Historical reconstruction of the Puget Sound groundfish community

Timothy Essington*, Eric J. Ward, Tessa B. Francis, Correigh Greene, Lauren Kuehne, Dayv Lowry

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We examined historical and contemporary trends for a suite of groundfish species in Puget Sound, Washington, to ask how the groundfish community has responded following shifts in fishing regulations, climate, food web, and a growing human population in the surrounding watershed. We used contemporary data (1990–2017) from a standardized annual bottom trawl survey with historical logbook information (1948–1977) from a research vessel. We standardized data to account for spatial and temporal effects on catch rate by first fitting a Bayesian model to the contemporary data, and then using the posterior distributions of the covariates as prior distributions when fitting models to the historical data. We find that most of the 15 species chosen for analysis had highly variable population dynamics within both time periods, and that patterns of variability were similar in the contemporary and historical time period. Surprisingly there was little evidence of community-wide recovery following regulations that first limited and then banned commercial bottom trawling in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. The same two species, Spotted ratfish and English sole, dominated catches in both time periods, and species that were common in the historical time period were also common in the contemporary time period. The absence of coherent community changes in response to fisheries regulations and other major social and ecological changes may signal the complex dynamics of an urban estuary that is subject to multiple external drivers, and speaks to the need to consider long term dynamic behavior of populations and communities when establishing ecological indicators.