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In a context of growing fishing pressures and recommendations for an ecosystem approach to fisheries, there is a need to monitor changes in fish communities over time. In this study, we analysed data from scientific trawl surveys carried out on the continental shelf off Guinea between 1985 and 2012. We performed factorial analyses and calculated biodiversity indices to characterise the changes in the structure and composition of fish communities that occurred over the 28-year period in this area, particularly given intensive fishing activities. We show that, over the study period, fish communities on the Guinean shelf were structured primarily according to spatial factors, with temporal changes being less pronounced than expected. However, a temporal analysis of biodiversity indices and species dominance showed that the intensification of fishing had significant effects on the general ecological features of the fish assemblages under study. There was a decrease in fish density and in mean trophic level. In addition, there were changes in species dominance, whereby large, slow-growing species with high commercial value were gradually replaced by smaller, fast-growing species of lesser commercial interest. These results from field observations are in line with some conclusions from previous modelling studies in the same geographical area, and provide further support for the hypothesis of a progressive ‘ecosystem effect of fishing’ occurring in Guinean waters.
Keywords: biodiversity, ecosystem indicators, fishing impact, historical data, marine ecology, trawling surveys