Interannual to decadal variability in the catches of small pelagic fishes from China Seas and its responses to climatic regime shifts
Small pelagic fishes such as sardine and anchovy play an important role in marine ecosystem and are affected largely by environmental changes because of their character as r-strategists and their low trophic levels. Small pelagic fishes are crucial targets of Chinese fisheries, accounting for 26% of the total catch in 2014. Their catches show an increasing trend since the 1950s. However, there is still little information on small pelagic species inhabiting Chinese waters. Catch trends and impacts of climatic regime shifts for six typical commercially important small pelagic species, chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus), Japanese scad (Decapterus maruadsi), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi), Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonicus), Japanese sardine (Sardinops melanostictus) and horse mackerel (Trachurus japonicus), are analyzed using Chinese Fishery Statistics, FAO data, climatic indices and sea surface temperature (SST) data. The aim is to explore the interannual to decadal variability of their catches in China Seas and their responses to climatic regime shifts. Decadal variability is evident in the catches of the six small pelagic fishes with different variation patterns between warm- and cold-water species. Step changes in catches of the six species were observed in 1976/77, 1986/87, 1995/96, 2001/02 and 2005/06, while regime shifts in climatic/SST indices occurred around 1976/77, the late 1980s and the mid-1990s. This indicates that decadal variations in small pelagic fishes respond strongly to the climatic regime shifts, and the different response patterns of warm- and cold-water species reflect their different life strategies. Marine thermal variation patterns during the period 1981-2000 were well explained by different phase changes in the SSTs between summer and winter and were consistent with the step change in the catches of small pelagic fishes. The double-integration hypothesis, which indicates that cumulative integrations of atmospheric forcing can generate marine population responses, is useful both to understand the process from climate forcing to fish and the controlling mechanism of climate variability on small pelagic fishes in China Seas.