Marine Biology

, Volume 161, Issue 8, pp 1809–1822 | Cite as

Rapid changes in growth, condition, size and age of small pelagic fish in the Mediterranean

  • Elisabeth Van BeverenEmail author
  • Sylvain Bonhommeau
  • Jean-Marc Fromentin
  • Jean-Louis Bigot
  • Jean-Hervé Bourdeix
  • Pablo Brosset
  • David Roos
  • Claire Saraux
Original Paper


Since 2007, the ecosystem of the Gulf of Lions has shifted to a different regime, characterised by a low anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardine (Sardina pilchardus) biomass and a remarkably high sprat (Sprattus sprattus) biomass. Surprisingly, the abundance and recruitment of anchovy and sardine remained high. To understand which processes (bottom-up or top-down control, etc.) could have caused this shift, we studied the changes in body condition, growth and size and age of anchovy, sardine and sprat over 1984–1985 and 1992–2012, using data from scientific surveys. The annual age structure of anchovy and sardine was estimated using Bayesian mixture models based on size frequency data with priors on the age–length relationship derived from independent otolith readings. The results indicated periods during which anchovy and sardine were in an average (1992–2004), good (2005–2007) or poor (2008–2012) overall state of condition. For sardine, the shift towards smaller fish observed during these past 4 years was explained by a combination of slower growth and the disappearance of older individuals (ages 2+). Despite the increase in biomass of sprat since 2008, indications were found that sprat was also smaller than in the past. As growth and condition decreased and overexploitation has not been documented or suspected for those three species in this area, we propose that the current decline in sardine and anchovy biomass could be due to qualitative and/or quantitative modifications in the planktonic production (i.e. a bottom-up control) or mass mortalities of adults due to an epidemic disease.


Body Condition Trawl Survey Weight Relationship Small Pelagic Fish Sardina Pilchardus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the captain and the crew of the RV “L’Europe” and RV “Thalassa” as well as all the scientists on board for their assistance during the PELMED surveys. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their careful review of the manuscript and their excellent suggestions. PELMED surveys are cofinanced by Europe through the Data Collection Framework. We also thank the MEDITS team and the fishermen working with “contrats bleus” to provide us with samples for otolith analyses. This work is a part of the programme EcoPelGol (Study of the Pelagic ecosystem in the Gulf of Lions), financed by France Filière Pêche (FFP).

Supplementary material

227_2014_2463_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (729 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 728 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elisabeth Van Beveren
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sylvain Bonhommeau
    • 1
  • Jean-Marc Fromentin
    • 1
  • Jean-Louis Bigot
    • 1
  • Jean-Hervé Bourdeix
    • 1
  • Pablo Brosset
    • 1
    • 2
  • David Roos
    • 1
  • Claire Saraux
    • 1
  1. 1.IFREMER (Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la MER)CRH, Research Unit EME (UMR 212)Sète CedexFrance
  2. 2.Université Montpellier IIResearch Unit EME (UMR 212)Sète CedexFrance

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