Following the repeal in 1962 of a long-standing ban on trawling, yields of demersal fish from the Firth of Clyde, southwest Scotland, increased to a maximum in 1973 and then declined until the directed fishery effectively ceased in the early 2000s.
Since then, the only landings of demersal fish from the Firth have been by-catch in the Norway lobster fishery.
The Royal Society analysed changes in biomass density, species diversity and length structure of the demersal fish community between 1927 and 2009 from scientific trawl surveys, and related these to the fishery harvesting rate. As yields collapsed, the community transformed from a state in which biomass was distributed across numerous species (high species evenness) and large maximum length taxa were common, to one in which 90 per cent of the biomass was vested in one species (whiting), and both large individuals and large maximum length species were rare.
Species evenness recovered quickly once the directed fishery ceased, but 10 years later, the community was still deficient in large individuals. The changes partly reflected events at a larger regional scale but were more extreme.
The lag in response with respect to fishing has implications for attempts at managing a restoration of the ecosystem.