Food webs and the sustainability of indiscriminate fisheries
Here, we introduce a novel theory for multispecies fisheries that exploit fish stocks evenly within and across trophic levels in an entire ecosystem (i.e., fishery comprises all fleets). These “indiscriminate” fisheries may be common in developing countries where fish provide the main source of dietary protein. We show that simple food web modules, motivated by empirical patterns in body size and energy flow, yield general and robust predictions about the fate of such a fishery. Specifically, high and uniform fishing mortality modifies the fish community in a manner that leads to increased productive capacity from a low-diversity assemblage of small-bodied fish with rapid population growth and turnover (the productive monoculture effect). We then argue that catches are relatively indiscriminate in the Tonlé Sap, a highly productive inland fishery in Cambodia that feeds millions, and show consistent qualitative agreement between the theory of indiscriminate fishing and this existing empirical data. As the theory suggests, this indiscriminate fishery appears to be remarkably productive at the community level in the face of high fishing mortality; however, it tends to be unsustainable at the species level as the Tonlé Sap has a much depleted species diversity under its current high fishing mortality. We end by arguing that the reduced diversity of these types of fisheries likely put them at severe risk of being heavily impacted by changing environmental conditions such as climate change and hydroelectric development.