Towards ecosystem based management of the Azores marine resources: developing an ecosystem model and fitting to time series data of abundance and catch.

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive intends to adopt an ecosystem-based management for resources, biodiversity and habitats that puts emphasis on maintaining the health of the ecosystem alongside appropriate human use of the marine environment, for the benefit of current and future generations. Within the overall framework of ecosystem-based management, ecosystem models are tools to evaluate and gain insights in ecosystem properties, through representing its basic features given a limited number of data sources. The most widely used tool for developing whole ecosystem models is the Ecopath with Ecosim modelling approach and software. It has been at the forefront of describing the ecosystem effects of fishing and climate change. In this research, an Ecopath with Ecosim model for a North-Atlantic deep-sea ecosystem was developed. The first step consisted of modeling the flows and biomasses of the Exclusive Economic Zone waters of the Azores using appropriate data on biology and fisheries, with preference to local data. A total of 45 functional groups, including a detritus group, two primary producer groups, eight invertebrate groups, 29 fish groups, three marine mammal groups, a turtle and a seabird group, were modeled in this work. Cephalopods, pelagic sharks and toothed whales were identified as groups with key ecological roles in the ecosystem. In a second step, the ecosystem model for the Azores region was fitted to real data. The fitting procedure resulted in a considerable improvement in goodness-of-fit to historical and current fishing effort and biomass estimates. Optimal sets of predator-prey relationships and environmental variability were explored. This research proved a big step forward in developing credible ecosystem models that can simulate the effect of different management options for the Azorean fisheries on the ecosystem.

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