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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Effects of seasonal spawning closures on pike (Esox lucius L.) and perch (Percafluviatilis L.) catches and coastal food webs in the western Baltic Sea

Eklof, Johan S.; Hansen, Joakim P.; Eriksson, Britas Klemens; Ostman, Orjan; Austin, Asa N.; Yanos, Casey; Fredriksson, Ronny; Bergstrom, Ulf; Andersson, Henrik C.


Marine protected areas have become one of the main tools in the battle to curb marine biodiversity loss and habitat degradation. Yet, implementation of permanent fishery closures has often generated resource user conflicts that ultimately undermine conservation goals. Here we assessed the influence of an alternative and often more accepted measure - seasonal fish spawning closures - on large predatory fish and coastal food webs in the western Baltic Sea (Sweden). In spring 2017, we conducted a multivariable field survey in 11 seasonal closures and 11 paired references areas open to fishing. In each area, pike was sampled through angling, and perch and mesopredators through gillnet surveys. To assess trophic cascades, we measured zooplankton abun-dance and loss of tethered gammarids from predation. Catches per unit effort of northern pike (Esox lucius) - the main target species in recreational fisheries - were ca. 2.5 times higher per unit effort in closures than reference areas; an effect that may be caused by higher abundance and/or higher catchability of pike in the absence of fishing. Catch and weight per unit effort of the more common predator European perch (Perca fluviatilus), and the mesopredators roach (Rutilus rutilus) and three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in survey nets were, however, unaffected by closures. Moreover, a previously hypothesized trophic cascade from perch to zooplankton via three-spined stickleback was supported by the analyses, but appeared independent of closures. Yet, predation risk for tethered gammarid amphipods (a prey of stickleback and an important grazer on mac-roalgae) was three times higher in fished areas than in closures; a cascading closure effect that may potentially be caused by small predatory fish being less active in protected areas to avoid pike predation. Overall, our results suggest that spawning closures impact pike abundance and/or behavior and could help limit the effects of fishing, but that more research is needed to disentangle i) what mechanism(s) that underlie the protection effect on pike catches, ii) the apparently weaker closure impacts on other fish species, as well as iii) the potential for cascading effects on lower trophic levels. Therefore, new seasonal spawning closures should be implemented in addition to (and not instead of) much-needed permanent closures, which have well-known effects on the wider ecosystem.


Knock-on effect; Spawning closures; Marine reserves; Ecosystem-based management; Ecology of fear

Published in

Fisheries Research
2023, Volume: 263, article number: 106674
Publisher: ELSEVIER