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Keywords:

  • contemporary evolution;
  • darwins;
  • fisheries-induced evolution;
  • life history evolution;
  • microevolution;
  • over-fishing;
  • rapid evolution;
  • selective harvesting

Abstract

Age and size at maturation have declined dramatically in many commercial fish stocks over the past few decades – changes that have been widely attributed to fishing pressure. We performed an analysis of such trends across multiple studies, to test for the consistency of life history changes under fishing, and for their association with the intensity of exploitation (fishing mortality rate). We analyzed 143 time series from 37 commercial fish stocks, the majority of which originated from the North Atlantic. Rates of phenotypic change were calculated for two traditional maturation indices (length and age at 50% maturity), as well as for probabilistic maturation reaction norms (PMRNs). We found that all three indices declined in heavily exploited populations, and at a rate that was strongly correlated with the intensity of fishing (for length at 50% maturity and PMRNs). These results support previous assertions that fishing pressure is playing a major role in the life history changes observed in commercial fish stocks. Rates of change were as strong for PMRNs as for age and size at 50% maturity, which is consistent with the hypothesis that fishing-induced phenotypic changes can sometimes have a genetic basis.