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Ecological and evolutionary dynamics of juvenescent marine populations: a comparative study of the European hake in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean

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Protecting Europe's fish stocks

Over exploitation of marine fish stocks is a major cause for concern. An EU initiative investigated this problem, studying the impact of harvesting immature fish from European hake populations in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Climate Change and Environment

Studies have shown that fishing can influence evolutionary changes in marine fish populations. Not only does fishing reduce the size of a population, it also alters the genetic make-up of individuals and has a negative impact on the population's ability to recover as well as on the ecosystem as a whole. By removing the largest individuals, the remaining population mainly consists of juvenile fish, which continue to be targeted by fisheries. However, the evolutionary effect and impact on the marine ecosystem of removing young and immature fish is not yet clearly understood.European Fishing Policy maintains that a detailed understanding of ecological processes is crucial for the successful management of harvested species in European waters. Therefore, the EU-funded EVOLHAKE project investigated the ecological, demographical and evolutionary responses brought about by fishing activity and their effects on marine fish populations.The study focused on the European hake (Merluccius merluccius), a unique overexploited species found in both the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. M. merluccius stocks were studied using a combination of modelling, statistical tools and genetic information, taking into account differences in both fisheries' activity patterns and environmental scenarios.EVOLHAKE combined information from three different fields: evolution, population dynamics and genetics. Results clearly demonstrated how fishing activity, climate change, and ecological and evolutionary factors can interact in different ways for several populations of the same species.The project has contributed to European excellence and competitiveness in the field of fishery ecology, and will help conserve fish stocks through more efficient management.

Keywords

Merluccius merluccius, European hake, fishing, Atlantic, Mediterranean, evolution, population dynamics, genetics

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