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Sizing up the role of predators on Mullus barbatus populations in Mediterranean trawl and no-trawl areas

Agnetta, Davide, Badalamenti, Fabio, D’Anna, Giovanni, Sinopoli, Mauro, Andaloro, Franco, Vizzini, Salvatrice, Pipitone, Carlo
Fisheries research 2019 v.213 pp. 196-203
Epinephelus aeneus, Lophius budegassa, Mullus barbatus, biomass, coasts, demersal fish, ecological restoration, ecosystems, fisheries, marine protected areas, piscivores, predators, stable isotopes, Sicily
Fishing leads to drastic changes in ecosystems with a net loss of predatory biomass. This issue has been evidenced from historical ecological studies and from the evaluation of the effects of effective and large marine protected areas. In two fishery reserves off the northern Sicily coast the red mullet Mullus barbatus underwent an impressive biomass increment and a few piscivores fish species recovered after a trawl ban. The red mullet, more than 20% of all demersal fish in the untrawled areas, represented a huge food resource to its potential predators. By contrasting two trawled and two untrawled gulfs we figured out predator - prey relationships through the use of a combined approach based on trophic niche, stable isotopes data and biomass. We show that the white grouper Epinephelus aeneus and the black-bellied anglerfish Lophius budegassa are the most important predators of the red mullet with higher biomass in the untrawled areas. We also found a potential re-establishment of the trophic role for white grouper inside the untrawled areas. Our study highlights some of the benefits obtained from the use of large offshore marine protected areas as a tool for ecosystem restoration.