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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Nov 22;272(1579):2337-44.

Biology of extinction risk in marine fishes.

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  • 1Simon Fraser University, Department of Biological Sciences, Burnaby, BC, Canada V5A 1S5.


We review interactions between extrinsic threats to marine fishes and intrinsic aspects of their biology that determine how populations and species respond to those threats. Information is available on the status of less than 5% of the world's approximately 15500 marine fish species, most of which are of commercial importance. By 2001, based on data from 98 North Atlantic and northeast Pacific populations, marine fishes had declined by a median 65% in breeding biomass from known historic levels; 28 populations had declined by more than 80%. Most of these declines would be sufficient to warrant a status of threatened with extinction under international threat criteria. However, this interpretation is highly controversial, in part because of a perception that marine fishes have a suite of life history characteristics, including high fecundity and large geographical ranges, which might confer greater resilience than that shown by terrestrial vertebrates. We review 15 comparative analyses that have tested for these and other life history correlates of vulnerability in marine fishes. The empirical evidence suggests that large body size and late maturity are the best predictors of vulnerability to fishing, regardless of whether differences among taxa in fishing mortality are controlled; there is no evidence that high fecundity confers increased resilience. The evidence reviewed here is of direct relevance to the diverse criteria used at global and national levels by various bodies to assess threat status of fishes. Simple life history traits can be incorporated directly into quantitative assessment criteria, or used to modify the conclusions of quantitative assessments, or used as preliminary screening criteria for assessment of the approximately 95% of marine fish species whose status has yet to be evaluated either by conservationists or fisheries scientists.

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