Impacts of Fishing Low–Trophic Level Species on Marine Ecosystems

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Science  21 Jul 2011:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1209395

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Low–trophic level species account for over 30% of global fisheries production and contribute significantly to global food security. Here, we use a range of ecosystem models to explore the effects of fishing low–trophic level species on marine ecosystems, including marine mammals and seabirds, and on other commercially important species. In five well-studied ecosystems, we find that fishing these species at conventional maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels can have large impacts on other parts of the ecosystem, particularly when they constitute a high proportion of the biomass in the ecosystem or are highly connected in the food web. Halving exploitation rates would result in much lower impacts on marine ecosystems, while still achieving 80% of MSY.