Critical thresholds and tangible targets for ecosystem-based management of coral reef fisheries.
ABSTRACT: Sustainably managing ecosystems is challenging, especially for complex systems such as coral reefs. This study develops critical reference points for sustainable management by using a large empirical dataset on the coral reefs of the western Indian Ocean to investigate associations between levels of target fish biomass (as an indicator of fishing intensity) and eight metrics of ecosystem state. These eight ecological metrics each exhibited specific thresholds along a continuum of fishable biomass ranging from heavily fished sites to old fisheries closures. Three thresholds lay above and five below a hypothesized window of fishable biomass expected to produce a maximum multispecies sustainable yield (B(MMSY)). Evaluating three management systems in nine countries, we found that unregulated fisheries often operate below the B(MMSY), whereas fisheries closures and, less frequently, gear-restricted fisheries were within or above this window. These findings provide tangible management targets for multispecies coral reef fisheries and highlight key tradeoffs required to achieve different fisheries and conservation goals.
Project description:Many countries are legally obliged to embrace ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management. Reductions in bycatch and physical habitat damage are now commonplace, but mitigating more sophisticated impacts associated with the ecological functions of target fisheries species are in their infancy. Here we model the impacts of a parrotfish fishery on the future state and resilience of Caribbean coral reefs, enabling us to view the tradeoff between harvest and ecosystem health. We find that the implementation of a simple and enforceable size restriction of >30 cm provides a win:win outcome in the short term, delivering both ecological and fisheries benefits and leading to increased yield and greater coral recovery rate for a given harvest rate. However, maintaining resilient coral reefs even until 2030 requires the addition of harvest limitations (<10% of virgin fishable biomass) to cope with a changing climate and induced coral disturbances, even in reefs that are relatively healthy today. Managing parrotfish is not a panacea for protecting coral reefs but can play a role in sustaining the health of reefs and high-quality habitat for reef fisheries.
Project description:Ecological baselines are disappearing and it is uncertain how marine reserves, here called fisheries closures, simulate pristine communities. We tested the influence of fisheries closure age, size and compliance on recovery of community biomass and life-history metrics towards a baseline. We used census data from 324 coral reefs, including 41 protected areas ranging between 1 and 45 years of age and 0.28 and 1430 km(2), and 36 sites in a remote baseline, the Chagos Archipelago. Fish community-level life histories changed towards larger and later maturing fauna with increasing closure age, size and compliance. In high compliance closures, community biomass levelled at approximately 20 years and 10 km(2) but was still only at approximately 30% of the baseline and community growth rates were projected to slowly decline for more than 100 years. In low compliance and young closures, biomass levelled at half the value and time as high compliance closures and life-history metrics were not predicted to reach the baseline. Biomass does not adequately reflect the long-time scales for full recovery of life-history characteristics, with implications for coral reef management.
Project description:The coral reefs of Tanga, Tanzania were recognized as a national conservation priority in the early 1970s, but the lack of a management response led to damage by dynamite, beach seines, and high numbers of fishers until the mid 1990s. Subsequently, an Irish Aid funded IUCN Eastern Africa program operated from 1994 to mid 2007 to implement increased management aimed at reducing these impacts. The main effects of this management were to establish collaborative management areas, reduce dynamite and seine net fishing, and establish small community fisheries closures beginning in 1996. The ecology of the coral reefs was studied just prior to the initiation of this management in 1996, during, 2004, and a few years after the project ended in 2010. The perceptions of resource users towards management options were evaluated in 2010. The ecological studies indicated that the biomass of fish rose continuously during this period from 260 to 770 kg/ha but the small closures were no different from the non-closure areas. The benthic community studies indicate stability in the coral cover and community composition and an increase in coralline algae and topographic complexity over time. The lack of change in the coral community suggests resilience to various disturbances including fisheries management and the warm temperature anomaly of 1998. These results indicate that some aspects of the management program had been ecologically successful even after the donor program ended. Moreover, the increased compliance with seine net use and dynamite restrictions were the most likely factors causing this increase in fish biomass and not the closures. Resource users interviewed in 2010 were supportive of gear restrictions but there was considerable between-community disagreement over the value of specific restrictions. The social-ecological results suggest that increased compliance with gear restrictions is largely responsible for the improvements in reef ecology and is a high priority for future management programs.
Project description:Fish biomass is a primary driver of coral reef ecosystem services and has high sensitivity to human disturbances, particularly fishing. Estimates of fish biomass, their spatial distribution, and recovery potential are important for evaluating reef status and crucial for setting management targets. Here we modeled fish biomass estimates across all reefs of the western Indian Ocean using key variables that predicted the empirical data collected from 337 sites. These variables were used to create biomass and recovery time maps to prioritize spatially explicit conservation actions. The resultant fish biomass map showed high variability ranging from ~15 to 2900 kg/ha, primarily driven by human populations, distance to markets, and fisheries management restrictions. Lastly, we assembled data based on the age of fisheries closures and showed that biomass takes ~ 25 years to recover to typical equilibrium values of ~1200 kg/ha. The recovery times to biomass levels for sustainable fishing yields, maximum diversity, and ecosystem stability or conservation targets once fishing is suspended was modeled to estimate temporal costs of restrictions. The mean time to recovery for the whole region to the conservation target was 8.1(± 3SD) years, while recovery to sustainable fishing thresholds was between 0.5 and 4 years, but with high spatial variation. Recovery prioritization scenario models included one where local governance prioritized recovery of degraded reefs and two that prioritized minimizing recovery time, where countries either operated independently or collaborated. The regional collaboration scenario selected remote areas for conservation with uneven national responsibilities and spatial coverage, which could undermine collaboration. There is the potential to achieve sustainable fisheries within a decade by promoting these pathways according to their social-ecological suitability.
Project description:Coral reefs have been subject to mass coral bleaching, potentially causing rapid and widespread degradation of ecosystem services that depend on live coral cover, such as fisheries catch. Fisheries species in tropical waters associate with a wide range of habitats, so assessing the dependency of fisheries on coral reefs is important for guiding fishery responses to coral reef degradation. This study aimed to determine how fisheries catches associate with coral reefs in Queensland, Australia. Queensland's largest fisheries did not target fish associated with reefs, but specific sectors, particularly aquarium fisheries and commercial fisheries in the mid to northern region had a high dependence on species that use coral reefs. Regions that had a greater relative area of coral reefs had higher catches of species that depend on live coral, suggesting that coral area could be used to predict the sensitivity of a jurisdiction's fisheries to bleaching. Dynamic analysis of stock trends found that coral trout and red throat emperor, the two largest species by catch for the reef line fishery, were at risk of overfishing if habitat loss caused declines in stock productivity. Management of fisheries that are highly dependent on reefs may need to adapt to declining productivity, but further research to support ongoing reforms in Queensland's fisheries is needed to quantitatively link reef degradation to stock production parameters is needed.
Project description:Despite general and wide-ranging negative effects of coral reef degradation on reef communities, hope might exist for reef-associated predators that use nursery habitats. When reef structural complexity is lost, refuge density declines and prey vulnerability increases. Here, we explore whether the presence of nursery habitats can promote high predator productivity on degraded reefs by mitigating the costs of increased vulnerability in early life, whilst allowing for the benefits of increased food availability in adulthood. We apply size-based ecosystem models of coral reefs with high and low structural complexity to predict fish biomass and productivity in the presence and absence of mangrove nurseries. Our scenarios allow us to elucidate the interacting effects of refuge availability and ontogenetic habitat shifts for fisheries productivity. We find that low complexity, degraded reefs with nurseries can support fisheries productivity that is equal to or greater than that in complex reefs that lack nurseries. We compare and validate model predictions with field data from Belize. Our results should inform reef fisheries management strategies and protected areas now and into the future.
Project description:Coral reefs are biodiverse ecosystems structured by abiotic and biotic factors operating across many spatial scales. Regional-scale interactions between climate change, biogeography and fisheries management remain poorly understood. Here, we evaluated large-scale patterns of coral communities in the western Indian Ocean after a major coral bleaching event in 1998. We surveyed 291 coral reef sites in 11 countries and over 30° of latitude between 2004 and 2011 to evaluate variations in coral communities post 1998 across gradients in latitude, mainland-island geography and fisheries management. We used linear mixed-effect hierarchical models to assess total coral cover, the abundance of four major coral families (acroporids, faviids, pocilloporids and poritiids), coral genus richness and diversity, and the bleaching susceptibility of the coral communities. We found strong latitudinal and geographic gradients in coral community structure and composition that supports the presence of a high coral cover and diversity area that harbours temperature-sensitive taxa in the northern Mozambique Channel between Tanzania, northern Mozambique and northern Madagascar. Coral communities in the more northern latitudes of Kenya, Seychelles and the Maldives were generally composed of fewer bleaching-tolerant coral taxa and with reduced richness and diversity. There was also evidence for continued declines in the abundance of temperature-sensitive taxa and community change after 2004. While there are limitations of our regional dataset in terms of spatial and temporal replication, these patterns suggest that large-scale interactions between biogeographic factors and strong temperature anomalies influence coral communities while smaller-scale factors, such as the effect of fisheries closures, were weak. The northern Mozambique Channel, while not immune to temperature disturbances, shows continued signs of resistance to climate disturbances and remains a priority for future regional conservation and management actions.
Project description:Recruitment overfishing (the reduction of a spawning stock past a point at which the stock can no longer replenish itself) is a common problem which can lead to a rapid and irreversible fishery collapse. Averting this disaster requires maintaining a sufficient spawning population to buffer stochastic fluctuations in recruitment of heavily harvested stocks. Optimal strategies for managing spawner biomass are well developed for temperate systems, yet remain uncertain for tropical fisheries, where the danger of collapse from recruitment overfishing looms largest. In this study, we explored empirically and through modeling, the role of marine reserves in maximizing spawner biomass of a heavily exploited reef fish, Lethrinus harak around Guam, Micronesia. On average, spawner biomass was 16 times higher inside the reserves compared with adjacent fished sites. Adult density and habitat-specific mean fish size were also significantly greater. We used these data in an age-structured population model to explore the effect of several management scenarios on L. harak demography. Under minimum-size limits, unlimited extraction and all rotational-closure scenarios, the model predicts that preferential mortality of larger and older fish prompt dramatic declines in spawner biomass and the proportion of male fish, as well as considerable declines in total abundance. For rotational closures this occurred because of the mismatch between the scales of recovery and extraction. Our results highlight how alternative management scenarios fall short in comparison to marine reserves in preserving reproductively viable fish populations on coral reefs.
Project description:Seafood is an essential source of protein for more than 3 billion people worldwide, yet bycatch of threatened species in capture fisheries remains a major impediment to fisheries sustainability. Management measures designed to reduce bycatch often result in significant economic losses and even fisheries closures. Static spatial management approaches can also be rendered ineffective by environmental variability and climate change, as productive habitats shift and introduce new interactions between human activities and protected species. We introduce a new multispecies and dynamic approach that uses daily satellite data to track ocean features and aligns scales of management, species movement, and fisheries. To accomplish this, we create species distribution models for one target species and three bycatch-sensitive species using both satellite telemetry and fisheries observer data. We then integrate species-specific probabilities of occurrence into a single predictive surface, weighing the contribution of each species by management concern. We find that dynamic closures could be 2 to 10 times smaller than existing static closures while still providing adequate protection of endangered nontarget species. Our results highlight the opportunity to implement near real-time management strategies that would both support economically viable fisheries and meet mandated conservation objectives in the face of changing ocean conditions. With recent advances in eco-informatics, dynamic management provides a new climate-ready approach to support sustainable fisheries.
Project description:The establishment of no-take marine protected areas (MPAs) on coral reefs is a common management strategy for conserving the diversity, abundance, and biomass of reef organisms. Generally, well-managed and enforced MPAs can increase or maintain the diversity and function of the enclosed coral reef, with some of the benefits extending to adjacent non-protected reefs. A fundamental question in coral reef conservation is whether these benefits arise within small MPAs (<1 km2), because larval input of reef organisms is largely decoupled from local adult reproduction. We examined the structure of fish assemblages, composition of fish feeding groups, benthic cover, and key ecosystem processes (grazing, macroalgal browsing, and coral replenishment) in three small (0.5-0.8 km2) no-take MPAs and adjacent areas where fisheries are allowed (non-MPAs) on coral reefs in Fiji. The MPAs exhibited greater species richness, density, and biomass of fishes than non-MPAs. Furthermore, MPAs contained a greater abundance and biomass of grazing herbivores and piscivores as well as a greater abundance of cleaners than fished areas. We also found differences in fish associations when foraging, with feeding groups being generally more diverse and having greater biomass within MPAs than adjacent non-MPAs. Grazing by parrotfishes was 3-6 times greater, and macroalgal browsing was 3-5 times greater in MPAs than in non-MPAs. On average, MPAs had 260-280% as much coral cover and only 5-25% as much macroalgal cover as their paired non-MPA sites. Finally, two of the three MPAs had three-fold more coral recruits than adjacent non-MPAs. The results of this study indicate that small MPAs benefit not only populations of reef fishes, but also enhance ecosystem processes that are critical to reef resilience within the MPAs.