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Article

Dynamics of fish catches in the eastern Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea) and downstream of the Neva River during the 20th century

Aquatic Sciences. 2015. Vol. 77. No. 3. P. 411-425.
Lajus D., Glazkova J., Sendek D., Khaitov V., Lajus J.

The paper describes changing patterns of commercial fish catch in the downstream part of the Neva River and the eastern Gulf of Finland and analyzes drivers of these changes for the period 1929-1995. We summarize catch data on 20 species and species groups of fishes and lamprey, as well as available abiotic data (salinity, temperature and water transparency). Water transparency gradually decreased during the 20th century being inseparable from a number of non-quantified anthropogenic factors, thus it can be used as an integral index of anthropogenic loading on the ecosystem. Because fisheries statistics were not published regularly, catch data were extracted from archives and various publications. Fishing locations, gear and target species changed over time in relation to each other, reflecting technological developments in fisheries, commercial demands for fishery products and the abundance of fish populations. Until the 18-19th centuries, fisheries took place mostly in rivers where weirs and set nets targeted sturgeon, salmon and whitefish. By the end of the 19th century, herring and smelt were the main targets of fixed nets in coastal areas. A century later, the main commercial species, herring, was harvested with pelagic trawls operating offshore in the Gulf. This evolution in fisheries, along with other anthropogenic activities, caused severe declines in diadromous species. Spawning migrations that make them easy to catch, and their high market value, make diadromous fish more vulnerable than other groups. Canonical correspondence analysis showed that catches of most diadromous species decreased with increasing transparency, which may reflect their response to anthropogenic pressure. Marine and freshwater fish suffered from anthropogenic pressure, but to a lesser extent probably because of a wider distribution and dispersal, and more capital-intensive fishing methods. Catches of marine species, except herring, significantly increased in the 1970-1980s when salinity was comparatively high. We found no correlation of fish catches with temperature.