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FISHing Ancient Reasons to address current Concerns

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FISHARC (FISHing Ancient Reasons to address current Concerns)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

Oceans hold a fish resource that provides food for half of the 7 billion people on the planet today. In the current context of global changes, factors such as climate change will reshape marine diversity and fisheries production. However, our understanding of marine ecosystem “health” and the resilience of commercial fish stocks is challenged by the time depth of existing historical fisheries. Archaeological evidence provides a unique source of cultural, ecological and environmental information to extend our knowledge of marine fisheries and their effect on coastal ecosystems in the past. Through the analysis of pre-historic, historic and modern fish remains from the Iberian Peninsula, FISHARC has explored (1) the origin and evolution of fishing activities in the Northeast Atlantic, and (2) their impacts on fish biodiversity, behaviour and ecology through time and space. The project has been particularly focused on two important commercial species: European hake (Figure 1) and North Atlantic cod. FISHARC has examined human and environmental impacts on their biogeography, trophic level and population structure. Zooarchaeological and stable isotope analyses have been carried out on fish remains dating since the earliest marine fishing records to provide a baseline for a European pristine fishery.
The implementation of the project was based on zooarchaeological and isotopic analysis of archaeological fish remains and modern reference specimens (WP1). Carbon and nitrogen bulk collagen stable isotope analyses and compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA) of collagen amino acids have been performed to trace long-term impacts of human activities and environmental changes (WP 2, 5, 6, 7). Some of the analyses are still in progress, still the data is allowing to differentiate oceanographical stocks of hake and reconstruct ancient rudimentary foodwebs. The integration of isotopic and the total length mean is revealing impacts that might be related with fishing technology and intensive marine exploitation. The disemination of results have been preliminary presented on 3 international conferences and 3 seminars, their publication in scientific journals being in preparation for submission.
Additionally, the project has explored the development of Iberian commercial fisheries with a particular focus on hake. This way, it has been provided an updated catalogue of sites with hake evaluating its contribution through time. This study, carried out in collaboration, brings to light that the species was one of the major fishing items previous to AD 18th.
Finally, collagen samples from hake, conger eel, sardine, salmon, brown trout, sea trout and plaice have been sequenced and analysed for peptide fingerprinting, a protein-barcoding identification technique which uses mass spectrometry: ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry) (WP3).
FISHARC has provided for the first time a coherence overview of the development of post-Roman Iberian fisheries, demonstrating that European hake had played a key role. Besides its contribution to the knowledge of commercial fisheries development, the project expands the ecological information on the species. Since its local exploitation in prehistoric times, hake has gone from a pristine fishery to constitute one of the most catched species in Europe. The data derived from the FISHARC will help to correct the shifted baselines derived from the data historically available in marine fisheries and monitor environmental changes. The results can improve our understanding of hake oceanographical distribution, resilience of populations and food web structure relative to human activities. This data can help to define management baselines and restoration efforts essential to preserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable fisheries. This project contitutes an attempt to take lessons from the past to manage our marine resources todday for the future.
Modern vs. archaeological hake (Merluccius merluccius)