Freshwater protected areas can preserve high-performance phenotypes in populations of a popular sportfish

A. J. Zolderdo, A. E.I. Abrams, M. J. Lawrence, C. H. Reid, C. D. Suski, K. M. Gilmour, S. J. Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recreational fishing has the potential to cause evolutionary change in fish populations; a phenomenon referred to as fisheries-induced evolution. However, detecting and quantifying the magnitude of recreational fisheries selection in the wild is inherently difficult, largely owing to the challenges associated with variation in environmental factors and, in most cases, the absence of pre-selection or baseline data against which comparisons can be made. However, exploration of recreational fisheries selection in wild populations may be possible in systems where fisheries exclusion zones exist. Lakes that possess intra-lake freshwater protected areas (FPAs) can provide investigative opportunities to evaluate the evolutionary impact(s) of differing fisheries management strategies within the same waterbody. To address this possibility, we evaluated how two physiological characteristics (metabolic phenotype and stress responsiveness) as well as a proxy for angling vulnerability, catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE), differed between populations of largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) inhabiting long-standing (>70 years active) intra-lake FPAs and adjacent, open access, main-lake areas. Fish from FPA populations had significantly higher aerobic scope (AS) capacity (13%) and CPUE rates compared with fish inhabiting the adjacent main-lake areas. These findings are consistent with theory and empirical evidence linking exploitation with reduced metabolic performance, supporting the hypothesis that recreational fishing may be altering the metabolic phenotype of wild fish populations. Reductions in AS are concerning because they suggest a reduced scope for carrying out essential life-history activities, which may result in fitness level implications. Furthermore, these results highlight the potential for unexploited FPA populations to serve as benchmarks to further investigate the evolutionary consequences of recreational fishing on wild fish and to preserve high-performance phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbercoad004
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • Cortisol
  • fisheries-induced evolution
  • largemouth bass
  • metabolism
  • recreational angling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Physiology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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