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Seasonal variability in global industrial fishing effort

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Human beings are the dominant top predator in the marine ecosystem. Throughout most of the global ocean this predation is carried out by industrial fishing vessels, that can now be observed in unprecedented detail via satellite monitoring of Automatic Identification System (AIS) messages. The spatial and temporal distribution of this fishing effort emerges from the coupled interaction of ecological and socio-economic drivers and can therefore yield insights on the dynamics of both the ecosystem and fishers. Here we analyze temporal variability of industrial fishing effort from 2015-2017 as recorded by global AIS coverage, and differentiated by fishing gear type. The strongest seasonal signal is a reduction of total deployed effort during the annual fishing moratorium on the numerically-dominant Chinese fleet, which occurs during boreal summer. An additional societally-controlled reduction of effort occurs during boreal winter holidays. After accounting for these societal controls, the total deployed effort is relatively invariant throughout the year for all gear types except squid jiggers and coastal purse seiners. Despite constant deployment levels, strong seasonal variability occurs in the spatial pattern of fishing effort for gears targeting motile pelagic species, including purse seiners, squid jiggers and longliners. Trawlers and fixed gears target bottom-associated coastal prey and show very little overall seasonality, although they exhibit more seasonal variation at locations that are further from port. Our results suggest that societal controls dominate the total deployment of fishing effort, while the behavior of pelagic fish, including seasonal migration and aggregation, is likely the most prominent driver of the spatial seasonal variations in global fishing effort.

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