*Correspondence author: Michel Marengo, STARESO Marine station, STARESO, Punta Revellata, BP33, 20260, Calvi, France
How to cite this article:Michel M, Dimitri T, Michela P, Nine D, Michele L, et al. A Typical Mediterranean Fishery and an Iconic Species: focus on the common
Spiny Lobster (Palinurus elephas, Fabricius, 1787) in Corsica. Oceanogr Fish Open Access J. 2020; 12(1): 555827. DOI: 10.19080/OFOAJ.2020.12.555827
The common spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas, Fabricius, 1787) is an iconic species of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the existence of data on the artisanal fishery of P. elephas in the Mediterranean Sea and particularly in Corsica, knowledge on the biology and life history traits of this iconic species is still lacking. This paper identifies the main gaps in current knowledge and suggests future directions of research to answer these fundamental questions, which are currently unanswered.
The common spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas, Fabricius, 1787) is an iconic species of the Mediterranean Sea. This species has a wide geographic distribution spreading along the Northeast Atlantic coasts (from the south of Norway to Mauritania including the Canary Islands and the Azores) and along the Mediterranean coasts except in the extreme eastern and south-eastern basins . The common spiny lobster mainly colonizes rocky bottoms associated with various coralligenous assemblages between 0 and 200m deep . The movements of P. elephas have been reported rarely in the literature, but it is considered to be a sedentary species with a low level of mobility. The only tagging experiments, in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean (recapture rate between 5-10%),
show limited movements, generally less than 5 km, even if some recaptures have been recorded more than fifty kilometers away [3,4]. However, larval stage seems to be the main way of dispersal. The maximum size reported for this species is 50 cm (total length). The lifespan of this crustacean is important, its longevity can reach a maximum age of 30 years (maximum estimated age) . The age of reproduction is late for lobsters as it needs 5-6 years to become adult and sexually mature, which corresponds to an average size (Cephalothoracic Length, CL) of 86 mm for females and 76 mm for males in the Mediterranean Sea . As the growth of crustaceans depends on its environment (quantity of food, pollution), estimating its age is a major challenge . In fish, direct anatomical aging methods have been developed on specific structures, e.g. otoliths or scales, that can record annual
growth rings . However, in crustaceans, it has been assumed
that growth bands do not exist due to the loss of hard structures
with the moult . This moult with the loss of the hard structure
has known to “trash” molecular damage. This complicates the
estimation of the age of crustaceans by this method. Thus, new
approaches are being developed using age pigment markers (e.g,
lipofuscin) to more precisely determine the age of crustaceans .
P. elephas has a particularly long larval stage in the Western
Mediterranean basin with eggs hatching in December and last
larval stage recruitment (Puerulus) on coastal hard bottoms
occuring in May-June. While larvae distribution during this long
pelagic phase remains unknown, larval morphology (Phyllosoma)
tends to show that larvae are adapted to move offshore in the
whole Western Mediterranean basin. Nonetheless, periodic events
(several years periodicity) of massive recruitment have been
reported  and it could take place simultaneously throughout
the basin (Corsica, Baleares, Spain Coast). This suggests that the
recruitment success of Mediterranean P. elephas is tightly linked
to large-scale oceanographic processes and therefore that the
resource might be under the pressure of climate change .
Beyond individual characteristics, data at a population
level are still scarce. Genetics have long been recognized for
its usefulness in identifying the populations structure and
determining connectivity . The identification of the structure
of exploited stocks is fundamental for sustainable management
of fisheries by determining appropriate spatial units .
Several genetic studies, based on microsatellite analyses and
mitochondrial DNA sequencing, have revealed that, instead of
forming a panmictic unit, the populations of P. elephas formed two
distinct groups corresponding to the Atlantic and the Western
Mediterranean basin [14,15].
The common spiny lobster focuses on certain environmental,
societal and economic interests in the Mediterranean Sea. P.
elephas is a species which has a high commercial value and
represents an important economic interest for artisanal fishing.
The selling price of spiny lobster fluctuates between 50 and
100 € per kilo depending on the period of year and the type of
sale (fishmongers, restaurants or individuals). Despite of this,
according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature
(IUCN), overexploitation by professional fishing is a major threat
to the spiny lobster which has been classified as a ‘’ Vulnerable
‘’ species in the Red List of Threatened Species. Indeed, the
spiny lobster is highly vulnerable to fishing because of its life
history features including its long life and low growth rate and
it was recognized that fishing pressure can induce changes in
evolutionary traits such as growth rate and age at maturity .
Regarding fishing at the global level, common spiny lobster
landings have been in decline since the 1960s despite strong
interannual variability. Official capture production statistics from
the FAO for P. elephas in Europe showed a dramatic decline from
1100 tons in 1969 to 434 tons in 2017. For more than 50 years,
commercial fisheries landings have experienced a 60% drop.
While P. elephas were traditionally fished using traps, a selective
gear, these latter devices were largely replaced in the 60s and
70s by trammel nets. This change suddenly increased the fishing
pressure, but also the characteristics of the exploited populations.
P. elephas is an important marine resource in the
Mediterranean Sea, and particularly in Corsica. However, Corsica
was not exempted from the overall downward trend of catches
as production decreased from an average of 300 tons per year in
the 1970s to an average of around 80 tons per year in the 2000s
. Yet, Corsica is considered as an area where fishing pressure
is low compared to the rest of the Mediterranean . The fishing
activity in Corsica is artisanal and relies on a multi-specific and
multigear activity fleet of 166 units spread over 4 Prud’homies
(Ajaccio, Bonifacio, Bastia-Cap Corse and Balagne) in 2019.
The opening period for lobster fishing in Corsica begins March
1st and ends on September the 30th, in order to avoid the mating
and spawning period (in September). Corsican regulations also
require that the total net length per vessel do not exceed 5000m.
The 2006 European Council regulation (EC, No 1967/2006) on
professional fishing prohibits to market grained females and
sets the minimum catch size for P.elephas at 90 mm CL for the
European Mediterranean Sea. The fishing effort is praticed mainly
on the West coast and on a zone between 0 and 3 nautical miles.
The most used fishing gear currently for spiny lobster in Corsica
is the trammel net (nylon or braided), generally of mesh size
between 4 and 6. The duration of fishing operations is variable,
usually a minimum of two days. The spatial study of fishing zones
shows that the spiny lobster is distributed in a heterogeneous way
in Corsica . It is generally observed that the lowest Catch Per
Unit of Effort (CPUE) values are between 0 and 50 m deep while
the maximum values are mainly between 50 and 200 m deep .
Sampled individuals showed a wide spectrum of capture in the
artisanal fishery, ranging from juveniles to adults, from 20 mm to
157 mm in CL .
Despite the existence of data on the artisanal fishery of P.
elephas in the Mediterranean Sea and particularly in Corsica,
knowledge on the biology and life history traits of this iconic
species is still lacking.
It is in this context that five partners (STARESO, CRPMEM,
OEC/UAC, CY, Univ-Corse-CNRS) bringing together scientists,
managers and fishermen, initiated the ALIGOSTA collaborative
research program. The ALIGOSTA project (2020-2023) aims to
improve the state of knowledge on the biology and population
structure of P. elephas in Corsica. More precisely, the project
objectives are to:
I. Explore the opportunities and the feasibility of
new direct age determination techniques, by the detection
and characterization of senescence markers (e.g: lipofuscin,β-galactosidase, oxidative stress). Investigate the relation
between the rate of cell aging and the appearance of these
markers according to the stages of spiny lobster development.
Compare these age estimates with “classic” growth models (e.g.
Von Bertalanffy, Bhattacharya, Powell-Wetherall).
II. Estimate the size-fertility relationship, the fertile
biomass and the reproductive potential of P. elephas around
Corsica, study primary/secondary sexual characteristics, test
their reliability to determine the physiological, morphological
and functional maturity of the species. Study the potential
modifications of evolutionary/morphological traits both at
macroscopic and microscopic level and the selection processes
induced by fishing pressure.
III. Improve the understanding of connectivity and
population dynamics using genetic markers (e.g. microsatellites).
Estimate the extent of gene flow and connectivity among
populations of P. elephas in Corsica. Evaluate the effect of different
oceanographic barriers (currents, water masses) and protection
measures (e.g. Marine Protected Areas) on the population
structure. Examine whether the current genetic variability of P.
elephas is affected by the current overfishing and/or by historical
IV. Estimate population parameters such as abundance,
survival, recruitment and movement using Capture-Mark-
Recapture (CMR) methods. Study the movement skills (e.g. home
range) and identify the spatial scale of these movements using
techniques such as individual external marking (e.g. spaghetti
tags). These methods could help to understand individual
movements and potential exchanges between populations and
complement the results regarding to the population structure
identified by genetic markers.
The goal of this project is to provide essential elements in the
life history traits of this species. These data could be used as a
basis for assessing the state of the stock and modeling population
dynamics in order to contribute to sustainable fisheries
management in Corsica. The exploitation of fish stocks with
Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is a predominant objective
of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Determining the MSY
and assessing the state of the stocks in relation to this target is
based on demographic models which require knowledge of many
parameters of the life cycle of fish species. These parameters
are used in the analysis of yield per recruit, the estimation of
fertile biomass, the stock-recruitment relationship and the age
distribution of catches. This project will provide local stakeholders
and decision-makers with a better understanding of the role of
this species in the ecosystem and predict the possible ecological
consequences of various management measures and / or the
impact of climate change.
This research was funded by the “PO FEAMP 2014-20, Mesure
28” and the “France Filière Pêche”, as part of the ALIGOSTA project
research. This study was also funded by the “Agence de l’eau
Rhône Méditerranée Corse” and the “Collectivité de Corse”, in the
framework of the STARECAPMED program.
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