Investigating trends in the growth of five demersal fish species from the Firth of Clyde and the wider western shelf of Scotland

Hunter, Aidan and Speirs, Douglas C. and Heath, Michael R. (2016) Investigating trends in the growth of five demersal fish species from the Firth of Clyde and the wider western shelf of Scotland. Fisheries Research, 177. pp. 71-81. ISSN 0165-7836 (

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Demersal fish landings from the Firth of Clyde peaked in 1973, then declined rapidly until the targeted demersal fishery ceased in 2005. The abundance of large fish decreased during this period, and their numbers have not recovered since 2005. We aim to determine whether changing growth rates have con- tributed to the decline in the abundance of large fish. Bottom trawl survey data from 1980–2012 was used to calculate the annual mean length-at-age and time series of von Bertalanffy growth parameters of five demersal species; cod, haddock, whiting, Norway pout and saithe. Two regions were considered: the Firth of Clyde and the neighbouring seas west of Scotland (the western shelf). There have been substantial decreases in the lengths of most age groups of Clyde haddock and whiting due to declines in both asymptotic length and von Bertalanffy growth rate. Lengths-at-age have also declined in western shelf populations, but at markedly slower rates than within the Clyde. Trends in temperature and year class strength tended to contribute little to changes in the growth parameters, so declines in length-at-age have been largely due to other factors. Fishing intensity is greater in the Clyde than western shelf, and the size selectivity of the fisheries differ as more Clyde vessels use Nephrops trawling gear. Since trends in growth were also more extreme in the Clyde, it appears as though size-selective fishing may have caused reductions in the lengths of these fish. If the changes in growth are partially due to fishing induced evolution then it may take many generations for the changes to reverse.