Temporal and spatial patterns in the abundance of jellyfish in the northern Benguela upwelling ecosystem and their link to thwarted pelagic fishery recovery

B. A. Flynn, A. J. Richardson, A. S. Brierley, D. C. Boyer, B. E. Axelsen, L. Scott, N. E. Moroff, Paulus Inekela Kainge, B. M. Tjizoo, M. J. Gibbons

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


There has been debate in the literature about whether jellyfish abundance has increased in the northern Benguela upwelling system, or not, over the past five decades and what impact they are having on pelagic fish. Here we review old expedition literature as well as more recent spatial and temporal patterns in distribution of jellyfish off Namibia at a number of different scales, using both published and previously unpublished data. Specifically, we have used data from fishery-dependent sources of both the demersal (359 638 trawls) and pelagic fisheries (11 324 purse-seine sets) that cover the period 1992-2006, supported by data from fishery-independent demersal (6 109 trawls) and pelagic trawls (1 817 trawls) from 1996 to 2006. Using frequency of capture as an index of abundance, it is clear that jellyfish are not randomly distributed within the northern Benguela ecosystem, but show specific areas of concentration that broadly reflect regional oceanography and the distribution of other zooplankton. Although jellyfish are present throughout the year, peaks in abundance are shown that often coincide with peaks in the spawning activity of fish of commercial importance. Interannual changes in jellyfish abundance observed from all sources do not agree, with some showing increases, others declines, and still others showing no change, which suggests caution should be exercised in their interpretation. Based on the multiple lines of evidence synthesised here, we conclude that jellyfish abundance has increased concomitant with a decline of pelagic fish stocks. We conclude that future recovery of the pelagic fishery off Namibia is likely to be considerably challenged because of significant overlaps in space and time between fish and jellyfish, and through the effects of competition and predation effects of jellyfish on fish.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAfrican Journal of Marine Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)131-146
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aequorea
  • Chrysaora
  • fish recruitment
  • jellyfish joyride
  • overfishing
  • abundance
  • demersal fish
  • jellyfish
  • literature review
  • oceanography
  • pelagic fishery
  • predation
  • recruitment (population dynamics)
  • spatial variation
  • spawning
  • temporal analysis
  • trawling
  • upwelling
  • zooplankton
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Benguela Current
  • Namibia
  • Scyphozoa
  • Ecology: environmental biology - General and methods
  • Ecology: environmental biology - Animal
  • Ecology: environmental biology - Oceanography
  • Ecology: environmental biology - Wildlife management: aquatic
  • Animal distribution
  • Invertebrata: comparative, experimental morphology, physiology and pathology - Cnidaria
  • Animals
  • Animals, Invertebrates
  • Animals, Chordates, Fish, Nonhuman Vertebrates, Vertebrates
  • species abundance
  • spatial pattern
  • species distribution
  • temporal pattern
  • species competition
  • spawning activity
  • upwelling ecosystem
  • regional oceanography
  • predation effect
  • demersal fishery
  • thwarted pelagic fishery recovery

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