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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Improvements of Population Fitness and Trophic Status of a Benthic Predatory Fish Following a Trawling Ban

Tao, Lily S. R.; Mak, Yanny K. Y.; Ho, Valerie C. M.; Sham, Ronia C.-t.; Hui, Tommy T. Y.; Lau, Danny C P; Leung, Kenneth M. Y.


Trawl fisheries have been shown to cause overfishing and destruction of benthic habitats in the seabed. To mitigate these impacts, a trawling ban has been enforced in Hong Kong waters since December 31, 2012 to rehabilitate the ecosystem and enhance fisheries resources. Previous studies demonstrated that reduced trawling activities would increase the heterogeneity of benthic habitats, thereby enhancing species richness and abundance of benthic fauna and providing more prey resources for predatory fishes. This study aimed to test a hypothesis that the population and trophic dynamics of the Bartail flathead Platycephalus indicus, a heavily fished benthic predatory fish, at inner and outer Tolo Channel of Hong Kong (i.e., EI and EO) improved with increases in their body size, abundance, biomass, trophic niche, and trophic position after the trawl ban. Samples were collected from trawl surveys before and after the trawl ban to compare the pre-ban and post-ban populations of P. indicus from EI and EO. Body size, abundance, and biomass were assessed in 2004, 2013–2014, and 2015–2016, whereas trophic niche and trophic position were analyzed based on stable isotopes of fish samples collected in dry season of 2012, 2015, and 2018. Following the trawl ban, the abundance and biomass of P. indicus increased in EO, with body size increased in EI. Furthermore, as indicated by the results of stable isotope analysis (SIA) on their tissues and prey items, trophic niche, and trophic position of P. indicus increased in EI and EO, respectively. Our study demonstrated that the trawl ban had promoted the recovery of a predatory fish population through restoring size structure and trophic dynamics.


management intervention; recovery; trophic niche; trophic level; stable isotope analysis; MixSIAR

Published in

Frontiers in marine science
2021, volume: 8, article number: 614219

Authors' information

Tao, Lily S. R.
University of Hong Kong
Mak, Yanny K. Y.
University of Hong Kong
Ho, Valerie C. M.
University of Hong Kong
Sham, Ronia C.-t.
University of Hong Kong
Hui, Tommy T. Y.
University of Hong Kong
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Leung, Kenneth M. Y.
University of Hong Kong

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG14 Life below water

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