Spearfishing promotes a timidity syndrome and increases the safe operating distances in fish

Online Publikation

In a landscape of fear, humans are altering key behaviors expressed by wild-living animals, including those related to foraging, reproduction and survival. When exposed to potentially lethal human actions, such as hunting or fishing, fish and wildlife is expected to behaviorally respond by becoming more timid, but proving such responses underwater in the wild has been challenging. Using a rich dataset collected in situ, we provide evidence of spearfishing-induced behavioral effects in five coastal fish species using the flight initiation distance (FID) as a proxy of predator avoidance and boldness. We document that spearfishing promotes a timidity syndrome (i.e., an increase of the average timidity of harvested populations) and that the prey’s wariness is influenced by individual size, level of protection offered through marine protected areas and the ability to recognize the risk posed by underwater human predators. In particular, we show that changes in the appearance of the observer (spearfisher vs. snorkeler) modulate therisk perception among the exploited species, and these differences are more evident outside marine protected areas where spearfishing is allowed. We also detected a positive correlation between FID and fish size, with larger specimens (that are more likely targets of spearfishers) revealing larger FID. The behavioral effects were most clearly expressed in the most heavily exploited species and declined towards the less desired and less targeted ones, which may be a result of learning mechanisms and plasticity and/or fisheries-induced evolution of timidity. Our study reveals a trade-off where intensive spearfishing negatively affects future spearfishing success through behavior-based alteration of catchability. Either rotating harvest or implementation of mosaics of protected and exploited areas might be needed to manage spearfishing-induced timidity in exploited stocks.

Sbragaglia, V., Morroni, L., Bramanti, L., Weitzmann, B., Arlinghaus, R., Azzurro, E. (2018). Spearfishing promotes a timidity syndrome and increases the safe operating distances in fish. bioRxiv, (Preprint)

Veröffentlicht: 2018
Erschienen in: bioRxiv, (Preprint)