Journal article Open Access
Azzurra Bastari; Jacopo Beccacece; Francesco Ferretti; Fiorenza Micheli; Carlo Cerrano
In the Adriatic Sea, shifts in benthic community structure have been attributed to multiple stressors, from the effects of climate change to the impacts of commercial fishing. Some fishing practices, such as bottom trawling, have caused a widespread decline in exploited fish stocks. Bottom trawling is also expected to have negative impacts on benthic habitats, usually structured by and hosting a large array of invertebrate species, which provide important ecological services to fish and commercial invertebrate stocks. However, in contrast to commercial species for which long-term time series of the abundance exist, data on these habitat-forming invertebrates are scarce, as they are usually caught as bycatch and discarded. Therefore, there is great uncertainty about their long-term trends, and if these populations are stable or declining. Here we used interview surveys conducted with bottom-trawling fishers of the central Adriatic Sea to gather local ecological knowledge on megabenthos abundance occurring in their fishing domain, as an alternative source of information to conventional fisheries data. We interviewed 44 fishers, from the most important ports of the Marche region of Italy, to understand how megabenthic species have changed in abundance within the area since the 1980s. Specifically, we asked fishers to provide qualitative abundance scores for 18 invertebrate species in five phyla (Porifera, Cnidaria, Bryozoa, Mollusca, and Echinodermata) based on their recollection of these species’ presence in bycatch. We stratified responses in homogeneous temporal periods and geographic sectors of the study area, and analyzed their response with mixed effect ordered logistic regression models in order to evaluate spatiotemporal changes in the perceived abundance of each species. Our analysis suggests that the abundance of the sponge Geodia cydonium, the molluscs Pecten jacobaeus, Atrina fragilis, Neopycnodonte cochlear, and the group of holothurians, have declined. From fishers’ perceptions, only the bryozoan Amathia semiconvoluta has increased. Local ecological knowledge can provide important information on environmental change and can highlight species and ecosystems at risk when conventional scientific data are scarce or absent. This approach can be expanded to other regions of the Adriatic and broader Mediterranean Sea to reconstruct change of this heavily exploited marine region.