Changes in the demersal fish assemblages of British coastal waters during the 20th century

S.I. Rogers, J.R. Ellis, Stuart Rogers

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Catches of demersal fish from research vessel surveys in three areas around the British Isles from 1901 to 1907 were compared with survey catches in the same areas from 1989 to 1997. Mesh size and other characteristics of the trawls used suggested that some of these data were comparable, and could be used to describe changes in demersal fish assemblages over the last 80 years. In Start Bay (NW English Channel) and the Irish Sea, species diversity was the same in both periods, although the most abundant species in each period were not the same. In English coastal regions of the southern North Sea, fish populations became more diverse, as plaice Pleuronectes platessa and whiting Merlangius merlangus became less abundant, and the relative abundance of several non-target species such as dragonet Callionymus spp., bib Trisopterus luscus, and bull-rout Myoxocephalus scorpius increased. The proportion in the catch of small fish species (maximum body length 30 cm) in catches decreased in all regions during the time period, except in the Irish Sea where plaice replaced grey gurnard Eutrigla gurnardus as a dominant species. There was a decline in abundance of large sharks, skates and rays, including the common skate, Raja batis, white skate R. alba and the angel shark Squatina squatina. During historic surveys, 60% of the elasmobranch fauna consisted of thornback ray Raja clavata, whereas in contemporary surveys the lesser spotted dogfish Scyliorhinus canicula was the most abundant elasmobranch. Changes in length-frequency distribution of fish in both target and non-target categories, and other observed changes, were thought to be a response to commercial exploitation, and corresponded to similar observations recorded elsewhere. (C) 2000 British Crown Copyright.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)866-881
Number of pages16
JournalICES Journal of Marine Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2000

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