Protecting the Sources of Reef Fisheries

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An estimated 31 percent of marine species are overfished. according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Florida Tech Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences professor Ken Lindeman is working to slow that unfortunate trend through his work on the conservation of valuable snapper fisheries, marine parks, climate adaptation and other challenges to sustainable management.

This year, Lindeman was an author of the invited review article, “Biophysical connectivity of snapper spawning aggregations and marine protected area management alternatives in Cuba.” The other authors were lead author Rodolfo Claro of the Instituto de Oceanologia in Cuba; Andrew Kough of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; and Claire Paris of the University of Miami. The paper summarizes research between Lindeman and Cuban colleagues dating back to 1995.

The work was highlighted on National Geographic’s blog this October.

The article, published in Fisheries Oceanography, summarized the management of key snapper spawning sites in Cuba and the estimated dispersal paths to other countries of the eggs and larvae produced.  The findings give fishery managers in and outside of Cuba a better idea of how to protect these resources, including the possible geographic implications of different management actions.

“We were able to develop a summary that allowed us to unite the science and the management in a way that is often difficult to achieve,” Lindeman said.

This and prior research by the team has also dispelled some previous larval transport theories.  Studies over ten-year time scales clearly suggest that the majority of snapper larvae transported out of Cuba arrive in the Bahamas, not Florida. Many features of the ocean currents and the biology of the fishes suggest it is more difficult for larvae to move across the currents occurring between Florida and the Bahamas.

Lindeman is also co-chair of the global Snapper, Seabream and Grunt Specialist Group (SSG SG), one of many expert groups within the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation (IUCN). The SSS SG works to advance research and conservation of over 540 diverse reef fish species in six families of marine fishes – seabreams and porgies, grunts and sweetlips, snappers, threadfin breams, emperors and fusiliers. Planning and actions have focused in part on protecting the spawning areas of heavily-fished species, as well as juvenile nursery habitats.

This Specialist Group’s research has shown that these fishes can inhabit nearly every estuarine and marine habitat in shallow tropical areas of the globe. Many species are sold as “red snapper” and hundreds are important regionally as bread-basket food species. As of 2018, 68 percent of the over 500 SSG SG species have been assessed in terms of their risk for extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

With overfishing a challenge for researchers, analyzing the movement of newborn fish will give managers a chance to protect at-risk species.

“Much evidence and real-world experience demonstrates that protecting spawning areas of economically and ecologically valuable fishes pays off for everyone, including the larger ecosystem,” Lindeman said.

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I write about research at Florida Tech. For any inquiries, contact me at 321-674-8937 or rrandall@fit.edu.

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