An evaluation of underlying mechanisms for “fishing down marine food webs”
Since the concept of “fishing down marine food webs” was first proposed in 1998, mean trophic level of fisheries landings (MTL) has become one of the most widely used indicators to assess the impacts of fishing on the integrity of marine ecosystem and guide the policy development by many management agencies. Recent studies suggest that understanding underlying causes for changes in MTL is vital for an appropriate use of MTL as an indicator of fishery sustainability. Based on the landing data compiled by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and trophic information of relevant species in Fishbase, we evaluated MTL trends in 14 FAO fishing areas and analyzed catches of upper and lower trophic level groups under different trends of MTL and found that both the cases of a recovered MTL trend and a generally increasing MTL trend could be accompanied by decreasing catches of lower trophic level species. Further, community structure and exploitation history should be considered in using MTL after excluding species with trophic levels lower than 3.25 to distinguish “fishingthrough” from “fishing-down”. We conclude that MTL used as an indicator to measure fishery sustainability can benefit from a full consideration of both upper and lower trophic level species and masking effects of community structure and exploitation history.