New univariate characterization of fish community size structure improves precision beyond the Large Fish Indicator
The size structure of fish-communities is an emergent high-level property of marine food webs responsive to changes in structure and function. To measure this food web property using data arising from routine fisheries surveys, a simple metric known as Typical Length has been proposed as more suitable than the Large Fish Indicator, which has been highly engineered to be responsive to fishing pressure. Typical Length avoids the inherent dependence of the Large Fish Indicator on a parameter that requires case-by-case adjustments. Using IBTS survey time series for five spatial subdivisions of the Greater North Sea, we show that the Typical Length can provide information equivalent to the Large Fish Indicator when fishing is likely the strongest driver, but differences can also arise. In this example, Typical Length exhibits smaller random fluctuations ("noise") than the Large Fish Indicator. Typical Length is also more adaptable than the Large Fish Indicator and can be easily applied to monitor pelagic fish in addition to demersal fish, and together with information on the potential growth of the fish community, a proxy of which can be derived from the Mean Maximum Length indicator, it is possible to partition change in community composition from change in size structure. This suggests that Typical Length is an improvement over the Large Fish Indicator as a food web indicator with the potential to offer further insight when considered in conjunction with indicators of community composition.