Long-term ecosystem change in the western north pacific inferred from commercial fisheries and top predator diet
Assessment of the current status of marine ecosystems is necessary for the sustainable utilization of ecosystem services through fisheries and other human activities under changing environmental conditions. Understanding of historical changes in marine ecosystems can help us to assess their current status. In this study, we analyzed Japanese commercial fishery catch data and scientific survey data of the diet of northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus, NFS) to investigate potential long-term ecosystem changes in the western North Pacific Ocean off northeastern Japan over the past 60 years. Total commercial catches experienced peaks around 1960 and during the 1980s, decreasing to low levels around 1970 and after 1990. Catches were substantively impacted by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Species composition of the commercial catch changed over time, resulting in changes in the mean trophic level (MTL) of the catches. Trends in observed commercial catches were affected by many factors, including species population fluctuations potentially related to large-scale environmental shifts, migration and distribution patterns of species related to local oceanography, changes in fishing technology, and the introduction of fishery management frameworks. The composition of NFS diet also changed over time: although overall changes were small, MTL derived from NFS stomach contents declined from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. This fall in the MTL of the diet of NFS is suggestive of a shift in pelagic fish fauna from a “mackerel-dominant regime” to a “sardine-dominant regime”. Inconsistencies between changes in species composition and MTLs of the commercial catch and NFS diet resulted from differences in commercial fishing targeting and NFS foraging behavior strategies. Although commercial catch is a valuable source of information for investigating historical changes in fisheries, biological resources, and ecosystems, catch data should be interpreted carefully and other relevant information available should also be considered.