Past and present fish species recorded in the estuarine Lake Ichkeul, northern Tunisia
Lake Ichkeul in northern Tunisia is a Ramsar site, a MAB Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The system is one of the most important coastal wetlands in North Africa, especially as an over-wintering area for migratory birds, particularly Palaearctic waterfowl. The present study was aimed at diagnosing the status of fish species in Lake Ichkeul and documenting their annual and seasonal occurrence within the system. Fish samples were collected monthly at 22 sites from March 2011 to April 2012 using a variety of gears, including a dragnet, gillnet, trammelnet, frynet and beach-seine. Temperature and salinity measurements were taken at each site, while fishes were obtained from only 11 sites, representing mainly lacustrine stations. A total of 18 fish species belonging to 14 genera and 12 families were identified, with Mugilidae dominating with four species, followed by Syngnathidae with three species. This study represents a relative recovery in terms of fish species richness, since only 13 species were recorded here between 2003 and 2007. However, the numbers of fish caught, especially of the commercial taxa, seem to have declined in recent years, and the number of species currently present is much lower than that of several decades ago. Increasing human pressures, particularly reductions in catchment freshwater inputs, a breakdown in ecosystem connectivity, pollution and over-fishing appear to be the principal causes for the decline in fish abundance and diversity.
Keywords: estuarine fish, freshwater fish, marine fish, salinity, seasonal occurrence, species composition