Coral reefs are in decline worldwide due to a variety of anthropogenic factors, of which overfishing is the oldest and most egregious (Bellwood et al. 2004, Graham et al. 2006). Tropical reef fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) are preferentially targeted due to their predictable spatial and temporal occurrence and large concentrations of fish biomass (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). The targeted fishing of FSAs represents, interestingly, not only human degradation of tropical reef resources at large but also how humans have exploited natural evolutionary characteristics for our benefit. FSAs are biologically, ecologically, and economically significant phenomena, so their conservation is essential. Current management measures, however, are largely ineffective and plagued by challenges that largely grow from scientific uncertainty about how best to manage exploited aggregations. Flexible management options that account for unique species traits, as well as an improved understanding of reef fish population dynamics, are necessary to surmount these challenges and achieve effective conservation.
[...] For instance, aggregation fishing may yield lower prices for the fish due to market saturation during the spawning period. It also becomes more difficult to catch fish over the rest of year if fishing effort is concentrated at one time. Furthermore, since single FSAs may support fisheries for a particular species over a large area, maintaining healthy FSAs or allowing exploited ones to recover can benefit the fishery in the long term (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). Ideally, FSAs should be fully protected from fishing; economic analyses have indicated that aggregations can have amenity value as ecotourism resources (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). [...]
[...] Larger coral reef crisis confounds small-scale efforts The crisis faced by aggregating fish species cannot be separated from the larger coral reef crisis, which could act as a confounding factor in determining conservation measures. Much attention has been paid to the deleterious effects of overfishing, a process, on coral reef ecosystems. What also demands consideration, however, are “bottom-up” processes that can drive extinction through habitat destruction and degradation (Jones et al. 2004). There is evidence, for instance, that MPAs and even marine reserves may be inadequate to fully protect reef fish biodiversity and abundance in the face of large-scale anthropogenic impacts, such as pollution and climate change, which are degrading the environment from the “bottom-up” (Jones et al. [...]
[...] Biology of fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) Fish spawning aggregations, or FSAs, are a particular type of reproductive strategy that is used by many large, commercially important reef fishes (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). Generally, an FSA is a group of nonspecific fish gathered at a specific site and time, at a higher density than normal, for the purpose of spawning (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). This is differentiated from schooling behavior, which is not related to reproduction. The duration and location of FSAs varies slightly but is predictable for many species. [...]
[...] Domeier Monitoring and managing spawning aggregations: methods and challenges. SPC Live Reef Fish Information Bulletin 14:25-29. Sadovy de Mitcheson, Y., A. Cornish, M. Domeier, P.L. Colin, M. Russell, and K. Lindeman A global baseline for spawning aggregations of reef fishes. Conservation Biology 22:1233-1244. Safina, C Song for the Blue Ocean. Henry Holt and Company: New York. 440pp. Sala, E., E. Ballesteros, and R.M. Starr Rapid decline of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in Belize: fishery management and conservation needs. Fisheries 26:23-30. Starr, R.M., E. Sala, E. Ballesteros, and M. [...]
[...] Organizations such as the international Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA) are currently undertaking such tasks. Even without recognition of the intrinsic value of aggregating reef fish, the biological, ecological, and economic importance of healthy spawning aggregations is incontrovertible. Attempts to resolve the unanswered questions about FSAs will contribute significantly to scientific knowledge of fish habitat ecology, a current and major field of research. Bolstering this body of knowledge has potential to help improve the design of MPAs and other marine conservation areas not only for spawning aggregations but for fish species in general. [...]
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