Tag Archives: reef fish

Coral Reef Thresholds for Ecosystem Management

(c) Jim Patterson Photography, https://jimpattersonphotography.com/

(c) Jim Patterson Photography, https://jimpattersonphotography.com/

By: Rod Fujita & Kendra Karr

Fisheries management is principally focused on managing fishing pressure, with the goal of keeping individual fish stocks healthy enough to produce good yields.  But fisheries also affect the basic processes that keep ocean ecosystems healthy.  This is why it is important to understand how many fish need to be in the system to maintain the many important services that an ocean ecosystem can produce — including the maintenance of biodiversity, tourism value, and fisheries — and to manage fisheries so that fish populations remain at about that level.

The evidence that fish are important regulators of ecosystem processes is particularly strong in coral reefs.  The abundance and variety of fish is one of the most striking aspects of a healthy coral reef.  Some species transport energy and nutrients between seagrass meadows and the reefs.  Grazing fish species on a healthy coral reef keep seaweeds that would otherwise over-grow the reef in check.   Predators regulate populations of prey species, responding to natural variability by adjusting their feeding rates and numbers.  On a healthy reef, many different species occupy each of these niches, and each does their job in a slightly different way.  This enables the reef to resist threats and other changes (like hurricanes) and to recover from very storms or human impacts, within limits of course. Read More »

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Catch Share Conversations: Monitoring Systems Case Studies

Teal basket full of red snapper

Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper

Throughout this week in our Catch Share Conversations series, we have explored the importance of monitoring, and discussed best practices of monitoring systems. Today, we present two case studies—British Columbia Groundfish and Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish– that highlight the diversity of fisheries and accompanying monitoring systems.  These distinctly different examples show how monitoring systems reflect the unique goals and characteristics of a fishery and how two different fisheries design monitoring programs to meet their needs. 

The British Columbia Groundfish fishery is a multispecies fishery with a fleet that employs a wide range of gear types. It employs one of the most sophisticated monitoring systems in the world, including hail in/hail out, 100 percent dockside coverage, 100 percent at-sea monitoring, including observers for trawl vessels, and electronic video monitoring for hook & line and trap vessels.

The Gulf of Mexico Reef fish fishery is a multispecies fishery. The fishery uses logbooks, partial at-sea monitoring, dockside coverage, electronic reporting, VMS and hail in/hail out monitoring techniques to reach program goals. 

Read the complete fact sheets for more details on the British Columbia Groundfish and Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish monitoring systems.

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Diving in the Jardines de la Reina – Gardens of the Queen – in Southeastern Cuba

After hundreds of dives around the Caribbean – and decades of “fish watching” – I thought there was nothing left in that part of the world to knock my socks off.  Boy, was I wrong!

Tortuga floating hotel in Los Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

Tortuga floating hotel in Los Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

I have heard for years about the wonders of the Jardines de la Reina – the Gardens of the Queen – in southeastern Cuba, and so was prepared for better-than-average diving during a recent week of exploring opportunities for scientific research in the recently declared national park.  Our base was the floating hotel, “Tortuga,” operated jointly by Cuba and the Italian company, Avalon.

I was totally unprepared for the sheer spectacle created by massive Goliath groupers, swarms of huge groupers and snappers, carpets of other reef fishes, and by the parade of sharks on every dive.  Diving with free-swimming Goliath groupers – behemoths sometimes nearly the size of Volkswagens – is a never to be forgotten experience.

Dr. Doug Rader with a Goliath grouper in Cuba

Dr. Doug Rader with a Goliath grouper in Cuba

Sharks are the calling card for the Gardens to divers from around the world: silky, Caribbean reef, blacktips, lemons and nurse sharks, plus the diving “holy grail” – whale sharks – the world’s largest sharks.  During our week, divers hailed from Lithuania, Latvia, the UK, Germany and the US.

Whale sharks, in fact, create their own microcosms as they feed on zooplankton and herrings that are also eating the zooplankton attracting schools of small tuna called bonitos that in turn attract silky sharks and seabirds in a massive feeding orgy.  Spotters find whale sharks by the birds picking up the leftovers.  The week before we were there groups of divers saw whale sharks every day.  Changing weather meant clearer water and better diving, but shifted the whale sharks away from our location – only one was sited our week, and not by us!

Caribbean reef shark

Caribbean reef shark

In addition to a variety of dives on different types of reef formations, we also spent many hours snorkeling. We examined every key habitat of the Gardens, from the nurseries formed by shallow-water mangroves and seagrass beds, to patch reefs and reef crests, and then to fore reefs and coral canyons and walls. 

Each new habitat added to a list of fishes that by week’s end numbered 124 species.  Actually, we did no night diving or snorkeling, and so missed a whole element of fish diversity which hides under coral heads during the day.  Also, I realized at the end of the trip that I had failed to notice many species because the large fishes distracted me.  Cuban scientists  in the Gardens suggested that many of the smaller fish we are used to seeing during the day in the more depleted reefs around the Caribbean are also there, but must spend more time hiding under the corals given the huge abundance of predators!  Makes sense to me.

Carpet of reef fish - school of fish

A carpet of reef fish

The one “downer” we encountered was the amazing prevalence of invasive Pacific red lionfishes, which we saw on nearly every dive and snorkel, regardless of depth, and regardless of habitat type.  While the impact of these voracious predators armed with poisonous spines remains unknown, it cannot be good to have so many on the reefs and in the shallows.  On one dive, I counted 22 lionfish and one of my colleagues counted 23.  Apparently, many foreigners like to see them, unaware of the challenge to the reef – the bellwether for a future full of changing animal populations as oceans warm and acidify – that they may represent.

All in all, our EDF team returned both awed at the beauty found in this remote location, but also energized by the potential for restoration of fish populations that a combination of proper management of marine parks and effective fisheries management represent.  Given the fact that most of these reef species have life histories that reach all the way across the continental shelf, the third piece of the puzzle, of course, must be effective coastal zone management – more about that later!

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New NOAA policy an economic and conservation boost for Gulf fisheries

Red snapper on scaleThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new catch share policy, which encourages the use of catch shares to manage fisheries, is exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico’s declining fisheries and struggling fishermen.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council deserves a pat on the back for already considering catch shares for some of its fisheries, and NOAA’s new policy can help jumpstart even more progress to end overfishing in all Gulf fisheries. Ending overfishing is good for Gulf economies and will give fishermen more time on the water.

The red snapper individual fishing quota (IFQ), one type of catch share, is wrapping up its third year, and we continue to see the tangible benefits of catch shares: commercial overfishing is ending, fishing businesses are more stable, and bycatch (accidentally-caught fish that must be thrown back in the water and often die) has been significantly reduced.

Other Gulf fisheries and sectors can benefit from catch shares too: Read More »

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Gulf Council Considers Comprehensive Reef Fish IFQs

All commercial reef fish species may soon be included in a comprehensive reef fish IFQ program.The Gulf Council recently voted to consider adding all reef fish to the successful IFQ program already working for red snapper and coming on-line for grouper and tilefish in January. When implemented, it will be one of the largest and most modern and effective management systems in the U.S.

With comprehensive reef fish IFQs, progress to end overfishing will continue and potential problems, such as fishing effort shifting to less regulated species, will be prevented. It will also reduce wasted fish.

The remaining reef fish include vermilion snapper, greater amberjack, gray triggerfish, yellowtail snapper and dozens more. At its June meeting, the Council is expected to refine the fishery management plan process and timelines for getting started.

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