, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 975–986 | Cite as

Red Coral Fishery at the Costa Brava (NW Mediterranean): Case Study of an Overharvested Precious Coral

  • Georgios TsounisEmail author
  • Sergio Rossi
  • Josep-Maria Gili
  • Wolf E. Arntz


The Mediterranean red coral (Corallium rubrum, L. 1758) is a slow-growing longevous gorgonian that produces a red calcium carbonate skeleton, which is in high demand by the jewellery industry. Its long history of intensive commercial harvesting has resulted in a well-documented decline of its stocks throughout the Mediterranean, becoming especially apparent during the last two decades. Based on the extensive ecological data from the Costa Brava (NE Spain) stocks, this study reviews, for the first time, socioeconomic aspects and the impact of current fishing practices on the red coral population structure and reproductive biology. A comparison of the intensively harvested populations in shallow water with that of the infrequently harvested ones in deep water, along with a population in a marine reserve as well, reveals that 98% of all shallow water colonies show a juvenile size and branching pattern as a result of harvesting. Recent data on the reproductive biology of the species show that 91% of the colonies in shallow water populations (<60 m depth) are not 100% sexually mature. These populations are clearly at the limit of their recoverability potential. The maximum sustainable yield (estimated using the Beverton-Holt model) is reached at an age of first capture of 98 years, although the current regulations allow harvesting of approximately 11-year-old colonies (corresponding to a basal diameter of 7 mm). The presented data reveal how this renewable resource is being exploited in a clearly non-sustainable and inefficient way, changing significantly the underwater landscape of the Mediterranean coast. The review of all available data suggests that the shallow water stocks are depleted. Furthermore, recent trends in poaching of juvenile colonies and mass mortality events threaten the survival of the shallow water populations. A ban on reconstituted coral from the market appears to be the only option to control this form of poaching.

Key words

Corallium rubrum precious coral fishery management maximum sustainable yield poaching SCUBA 



We gratefully acknowledge valuable information contributed by A. Plujà. Many thanks to J. Laudien and to G. Santangelo and T. Brey for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We would like to thank the Mörker family, J. Riera and M. Vilà for their advice on local coastal bionomy. Special thanks to J. Bosch, R. Freixa, J. Gimbernat, R. Martí, P. Sánchez and J. Quintana for contributing important information on red coral and its fishery. Many thanks to JM Llenas for sharing information on the Medas Islands. G.T. was supported by a PhD scholarship from the University of Bremen, Germany. This study was funded by the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Government of Catalonia (Spain), PCC:30103.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgios Tsounis
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sergio Rossi
    • 1
  • Josep-Maria Gili
    • 1
  • Wolf E. Arntz
    • 2
  1. 1.Institut de Ciències del Mar, CMIMA (CSIC)BarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine ResearchBremerhavenGermany

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