• Open Access

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Avoidance of fisheries-induced evolution: management implications for catch selectivity and limit reference points


Jeffrey A. Hutchings, Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4J1, Canada. Tel.: +902 494 2687; fax: +902 494 3736; e-mail: jeff.hutchings@dal.ca


I examined how the fitness (r) associated with early- and late-maturing genotypes varies with fishing mortality (F) and age-/size-specific probability of capture. Life-history data on Newfoundland’s northern Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) allowed for the estimation of r for individuals maturing at 4 and 7 year in the absence of fishing. Catch selectivity data associated with four types of fishing gear (trap, gillnet, handline, otter trawl) were then incorporated to examine how r varied with gear type and with F. The resulting fitness functions were then used to estimate the F above which selection would favour early (4 year) rather than delayed (7 year) maturity. This evolutionarily-sensitive threshold, Fevol, identifies a limit reference point somewhat similar to those used to define overfishing (e.g., Fmsy, F0.1). Over-exploitation of northern cod resulted in fishing mortalities considerably greater than those required to effect evolutionary change. Selection for early maturity is reduced by the dome-shaped selectivities characteristic of fixed gears such as handlines (the greater the leptokurtosis, the lower the probability of a selection response) and enhanced by the knife-edged selectivities of bottom trawls. Strategies to minimize genetic change are consistent with traditional management objectives (e.g., yield maximization, population increase). Compliance with harvest control rules guided by evolutionarily-sensitive limit reference points, which may be achieved by adherence to traditional reference points such as Fmsy and F0.1, should be sufficient to minimize the probability of fisheries-induced evolution for commercially exploited species.