Managing sustainable sea URchin fishery and marine FORest conservation

The MUrFor project acts at the interface of ecosystem dynamics, habitat conservation and resource use by exploring sustainable management options for sea urchin fishery in tri-trophic systems with fish, sea urchins and macroalgae. Macroalgal forests enhance coastal primary productivity, maintain high biodiversity and provide ecosystem services, including habitat for commercial fish and invertebrates. This ecosystem is affected by multiple human pressures leading to contrasting responses. On the one hand, overfishing may indirectly impact macroalgal forests by reducing predatory fish numbers: this results in the loss of predator control on herbivores (sea urchins), which can proliferate and overgraze macroalgae, with consequent loss of habitat structure. On the other hand, sea urchin overharvesting can lead to local population collapses. In the Mediterranean Sea, both sea urchins and fish constitute locally important target species for small-scale fisheries. Uncoordinated management can result in overfishing of either or both resources, and/or in overgrazing of macroalgae, leading to habitat and biodiversity loss and to permanent regime shifts.

Project goals

MUrFor aims (1) to improve the scientific understanding coastal ecosystems characterized by intense resource use and alternative stable states, and (2) to provide a science-based management toolbox. For (1) critical thresholds leading to irreversible regime shifts on the habitat (overgrazing), the resource (overharvesting), and the fishery (economic sustainability) will be identified through a multi-modelling approach based on a suite of single-species, multi-species, ecosystem, economic and bio-economic models, which account for multispecies dynamics and socio-economic analyses of relevant scenarios. Models will be informed by tailored ecological in-situ experiments and stakeholder engagement exercises. For (2) a “best practice” manual of sampling protocols, multiple support tables and a management decision tree will be developed, describing how the framework has been applied and can be exported elsewhere, and a visualization tool to showcase general results as examples. Such toolbox will be co-developed with local fisheries and Marine Protected Areas managers through active stakeholder engagement.

Study areas

MUrFor will study two contrasting regional conditions: Catalonia (Spain), where the reduction of seabreams is leading to widespread barrens; and Sardinia (Italy), where intensive sea urchin harvesting has resulted in the collapse of local populations and of the related fisheries. These contrasting situations will serve as a benchmark to assess how effective ecosystem-based management of the fisheries and the habitats, tailored to local specificities, may deliver reasonable trade-offs between conservation and exploitation.

Project partner

⦁ Anton Dohrn Zoological Station (SZN, coordinating partner), Italy

⦁ National Research Council (CNR), Italy

⦁ University of Sassari (UNISS), Italy

⦁ Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Spain

⦁ Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Spain

⦁ Institut Francais de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER), France

More information on the project:

sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus © Egidio Trainito






Dr. Lotta C. Kluger