Local and global climatic drivers of Atlantic salmon decline in southern Europe

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The abundance of Atlantic salmon is declining throughout its geographical area. Fisheries and global warming were assumed as main drivers of the decline, and recent studies suggest that habitat changes in freshwater is a third contributor. Southern populations experience the greatest decline, and face the highest risk of extinction as global warming moves its thermal niche northwards. We analysed long-term catch data (1949–2013) from a salmon fishery in northern Spain, and examined its relationship with local and global indicators of temperature and hydrological change. CPUE data, analysed by ARIMA time-series models, exhibited a significant negative trend and a marked decrease since 1973–1974, possibly triggered by overfishing at sea and a sudden outbreak of disease. Temperature increased in the same period, particularly so since 1986–1988, being negatively correlated with CPUE. A significant change in magnitude and duration of extreme water conditions occurred from 1970s onwards. Indicators of hydrological shift were also significantly correlated with CPUE of returning salmon. The best ARIMAX models indicated however, that the decrease in salmon CPUE was mainly driven by temperature trends. This indicates that both local (temperature and flow in the river) and global (ocean temperature) factors have contributed to the decrease in salmon numbers, and that temperature has played the major role. Despite a strong reduction in fishing pressure after the 1970s widespread collapse, our study population did not recover to previous abundance levels. This suggests the operation of additional factors, being climate warming and changes in food webs of the North Atlantic the most likely reasons.