Intrinsic Vulnerability in the Global Fish Catch

W. W. L. Cheung, R. Watson, T. Morato, T. J. Pitcher, D. Pauly, (2007). Marine Ecology Progress Series 333, 1-12.

We identify marine fishes most vulnerable to exploitation in different environments by comparing life history traits, represented by an index of intrinsic vulnerability. We then evaluate global changes in the mean vulnerability of catches comprising different species assemblages. Over the past 50 years, declines in mean vulnerability reveal increasing domination by low intrinsic vulnerability species. Coral reef fishes show the strongest decline, followed by seamount and estuarine assemblages: declines are most likely a result of rapid over-exploitation of highly vulnerable species. This is supported by a correlation between the spatial distributions of fishes listed under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and the rates of decline of mean vulnerability of catches. Fishes on the Red List are generally highly vulnerable. Deep water demersal and benthopelagic fishes, particularly those aggregated around seamounts, also have higher intrinsic vulnerability. These findings suggest that coral reef and seamount ecosystems potentially suffer high conservation risks from fishing. Moreover, concentrations of threatened fishes and strong declines in the mean vulnerability of catches in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean highlight these regions for conservation attention.