Implications of Allee effects for fisheries management in a changing climate: evidence from Atlantic cod

Winter, Anna Marie; Richter, Andries; Eikeset, Anne Maria


There are concerns that increasing anthropogenic stressors can cause catastrophic transitions in ecosystems. Such shifts have large social, economic, and ecological consequences and therefore have important management implications. A potential mechanism behind these regime shifts is the Allee effect, which describes the decline in realized per capita growth rate at small population density. With an age-structured population model for Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, we illustrate how interactions between human-induced stressors, such as fishing and climate change, can worsen the impact of an Allee effect on populations by promoting hysteresis. Therefore, the risk of population collapse and recovery failure is exacerbated and the success of preventing and reverting collapse depends on the climate regime. We find that, in presence of the Allee effect, a fishing moratorium is only sufficient for recovery when sea surface temperature rise remains within 2°C and fishing is restricted within 10 yrs. If sea surface temperature rises beyond 2°C, even immediate banning of fishing is not sufficient to guarantee recovery. If fishing is not fully banned and a residual fishing pressure remains, the probability of recovery is further decreased, also in the absence of an Allee effect. The results underscore the decisive role of Allee effects for the management of depleted populations in an increasingly human-dominated world. Once the population collapses and its growth rate is suppressed, rebuilding measures will be squandered and collapse will very likely be irreversible. We therefore emphasize the need for proactive management involving precautionary, adaptive measures and reference points. Our studies shows that climate change has the potential to strengthen Allee effects, which could increasingly challenge fisheries management.