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Conservation issues for tropical reef fish spawning aggregations

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Reef fish in decline.
  3. Biology of fish spawning aggregations (FSA).
  4. FSAs and the threat from overfishing.
  5. Effects of overfishing FSA's.
    1. Biological considerations.
    2. Ecological and ecosystem considerations.
    3. Economic considerations.
  6. Conservation and management of FSA's.
  7. Case study: Nassau grouper exploitation in the Caribbean.
  8. Challenges to effective conservation.
    1. Biological uncertainties.
    2. Difficulty of monitoring practices.
    3. Lack of funding, education and empirical evidence for reserve effectiveness.
    4. Need to develop economic alternatives.
    5. Larger coral reef crisis confounds small-scale efforts.
  9. Issues for future research.
  10. Literature cited.

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. [...]

[...] Challenges to effective conservation Biological uncertainties A number of conservation challenges persist for Nassau grouper and aggregating reef fish species in general; significantly, biological uncertainty can hinder effective management. Movements and migration dynamics of endangered reef fish species are still poorly known (Starr et al. 2007), for instance, and few comprehensive studies have been undertaken to address, for instance, basic questions concerning the unique characteristics of FSAs and their levels of natural variation (Sadovy and Domeier 2005). Also, the ignorance of life history theory that is present in conventional management schemes means that there is resistance to accepting that highly fecund fishes, such as groupers, can be susceptible to overfishing (Sadvoy 2001). [...]

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