Bans on Some Fishing Gear Can Help Save Reefs

Written by on June 30, 2009 in Marine Life, Policy & Ocean Law
Coral reef  -  Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Coral reef - Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

An international team of scientists has proposed that bans on fishing gear, such as spear guns, fish traps, and beach seine nets, could aid in the recovery of reefs and fish populations hard hit by coral bleaching events.

Research carried out in Kenya and Papua New Guinea has shown that certain types of gear are more damaging to corals, to coral-dependent fish and to the key species of fish that are needed to help reefs recover from bleaching or storm damage.
 
Around the world corals have been dying at alarming rates, due to unusually warm water events resulting from global warming.  “From an ecological perspective, the best response to bleaching is to close reefs to fishing entirely.  But that is not feasible everywhere and is a particularly hard sell among the impoverished fishers in developing countries” says co-author Dr. Tim McClanahan of the Wildlife Conservation Society
 

Speargun - Head of a fishing arrow Guyana - Wikipedia

Speargun - Head of a fishing arrow Guyana - Wikipedia

In those areas, where fishing cannot be avoided, restricting the use of certain types of fishing gear could mean a compromise, helping reefs and its fish recover and still provide fishers with some options for their livelihood.  Fishers typically use several types of gear so they can still earn a living despite some sort of gear banning and will therefore be more likely to comply than to total closures.

The scientist have found in their research that spear guns, the fishing tool most used by the poorest fishers because they are cheap to make and the yield can be high,  were the most damaging of all, to corals themselves – when a hit fish hides in the reef and fishermen break the coral to get it, to susceptible fish species and to the fish needed to help reefs recover by keeping seaweeds and urchins in check while the coral re-grows.
 

Traditional fish trap in East Timor - Credit: Nhobgood Nick Hobgood

Traditional fish trap in East Timor - Credit: Nhobgood Nick Hobgood

They further assessed fish traps also targeted both the most susceptible reef fish and the ones most involved in reef recovery.  Beach seine nets didn’t target as many key fish species as gill nets, traps, or spear guns, but were damaging both to corals directly and took large amounts of juvenile fish.
 
“Where people really depend on reef resources, it may not be possible to permanently ban all of these types of gear.   By creating temporary bans for specific types of gear following a coral bleaching event, reef managers could ease pressure on the reef and its fish population for a time when corals ecosystems are most sensitive without causing undue hardship to the human populations that depend on it.” said Dr. Cinner from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and co-author of the study.
  
The study was conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups and the article “Gear-based fisheries management as a potential adaptive response to climate change and coral mortality,” by Cinner J. et al. appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology and provides managers with some ideas about the trade-offs involved in banning certain gear, which can be applied by coral reef management anywhere in the world. 

Reef scene  -  Guam, Mariana Islands  -  Photographer: David Burdick

Reef scene - Guam, Mariana Islands - Photographer: David Burdick

Copyright ©  2009 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Celia is Director of Business Operations for OceanLines LLC and is a frequent contributor to both OceanLines and Marine Science Today. She is a certified diver and her favorite topic is marine biology, especially stories about whales. .

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  1. Matt says:

    Once again a tragic case where our world reefs and their ecosystems are being destroyed. We Promote The Swapping & Fragging of
    Corals To Help Save The Worlds Reefs.
    and run a site/forum that is dedicated to this. We help connect our members with other users around the UK to swap their corals frags from their own tanks, which we believe although only on a small scale is adding to the bigger picture of helping to save our worlds reefs. We are going to eventually also setup breeding articles and sections to help people breed their fish, inverts etc so that we can try and reduce the impact the Marine Aquarium hooby has on reed destruction

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