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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2007

Food utilisation by coastal fish assemblages in rocky and soft bottoms on the Swedish west coast: Inference for identification of essential fish habitats

Stål, Johan; Pihl, Leif; Wennhage, Håkan


The concept of essential fish habitats (EFHs) is widely accepted for conservational and management purposes. EFHs are often considered as high quality habitats for fisheries species and subsequently of high values for society. In this study, fish and Substrate-Associated Prey (SAP) were sampled during the productive summer season 1998 (fish) and 2003 and 2004 (SAP) in shallow coastal rocky- and soft-bottom habitats on the Swedish west coast. The aim was to study the spatial and monthly variation of SAP as well as abundance and biomass of fish, and to examine if food items found in the diet of the fish assemblage were derived from SAP. We also examined if the diet of Ctenolabrus rupestris, a resident and abundant fish species in the shallow coastal habitats, and the diet of four seasonally abundant and commercially important fish species (Gadus morhua, Pleuronectes platessa, Salmo trutta and Scomber scombrus) were derived from SAP. There were significantly higher mean species number and abundance of the SAP assemblage on rocky compared to soft bottoms and the highest values were found on the rocky bottoms in August and in the shallowest (0-3 m) depth strata. There were no significant differences in number of fish species caught in the two habitats, although mean number of fish and mean biomass were significantly higher on rocky bottoms. Both habitats showed the same seasonal variation and the highest values of number of fish species, abundance and biomass were observed in June. On rocky bottoms, gastropods and amphipods were the most frequent food items in the diet of the entire fish assemblage and these items were also the most abundant SAP in this habitat. The dominant food items of the soft-bottom fish assemblage were decapods and fish, which were not common SAP. However, except for S. scombrus, the diet of the selected fish species showed a strong association to the SAP availability. Gadus morhua displayed the strongest association to SAP on rocky bottoms and P. platessa and C. rupestris to SAP on soft bottoms. Further, for C. rupestris, multivariate statistical analysis showed a significant association to the SAP assemblage on both rocky and soft bottoms. These results provide vital new information for the management and conservation of Essential Fish Habitats on the Swedish west coast. (c) 2006 Published by Elsevier Ltd.


essential fish habitats; benthic macrofauna; fish assemblage; rocky bottom; soft bottom; Swedish west coast

Published in

Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science
2007, volume: 71, number: 3-4, pages: 593-607

Authors' information

Stål, Johan
University of Gothenburg
Pihl, Leif
University of Gothenburg
University of Gothenburg

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