Changes in catch rates and length and age at maturity, but not growth, of an estuarine plotosid (Cnidoglanis macrocephalus) after heavy fishing


Chuwen, Benjamin M., Ian C. Potter, Norman G. Hall, Steeg D. Hoeksema, and Laurie J. B. Laurenson
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The hypothesis that heavy fishing pressure has led to changes in the biological characteristics of the estuary cobbler (Cnidoglanis macrocephalus) was tested in a large seasonally open estuary in southwestern Australia, where this species completes its life cycle and is the most valuable commercial fish species. Comparisons were made between seasonal data collected for this plotosid (eeltail catfish) in Wilson Inlet during 2005–08 and those recorded with the same fishery-independent sampling regime during 1987–89. These comparisons show that the proportions of larger and older individuals and the catch rates in the more recent period were far lower, i.e., they constituted reductions of 40% for fish ≥430 mm total length, 62% for fish ≥4 years of age, and 80% for catch rate. In addition, total mortality and fishing-induced mortality estimates increased by factors of ~2 and 2.5, respectively. The indications that the abundance and proportion of older C. macrocephalus declined between the two periods are consistent with the perception of long-term commercial fishermen and their shift toward using a smaller maximum gill net mesh to target this species. The sustained heavy fishing pressure on C. macrocephalus between 1987–89 and 2005–08 was accompanied by a marked reduction in length and age at maturity of this species. The shift in probabilistic maturation reaction norms toward smaller fish in 2005–08 and the lack of a conspicuous change in growth between the two periods indicate that the maturity changes were related to fishery-induced evolution rather than to compensatory responses to reduced fish densities.