Fish and fishermen benefit from marine reserve

Populations of commercially important species like the red grouper increased in the Tortugas region following the closure of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Credit: NOAA Populations of commercially important species like the red grouper increased in the Tortugas region following the closure of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Tortugas Ecological Reserve. Credit: NOAA
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A NOAA report into the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Sanctuary has found that fish populations and commercial and recreational anglers have benefitted from the Reserve’s no-take protections.

The report is the first to evaluate how the 151-square nautical mile Reserve affects the living marine resources of the region and the people whose livelihoods are connected to them.

The report’s analysis of long-term socioeconomic and scientific information found that after the ecological reserve was designated in 2001 overfished species such as black and red grouper, yellowtail and mutton snapper increased in presence, abundance and size inside the reserve and throughout the region.

Annual gatherings of spawning mutton snapper, once thought to be wiped out from overfishing, also began to reform inside the Reserve.

Commercial catches of reef fish in the region increased, and continue to do so, and no financial losses were experienced by regional commercial or recreational fishers.

“The findings in this report are good news for NOAA management efforts to enhance fisheries and other natural resources in the Florida Keys,” said Holly Bamford, Ph. D., NOAA assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service. “The results are equally important in other areas where NOAA science provides support to management decisions that are made to best utilise and protect our natural resources.”

To assess economic effects of the area closure, social scientists from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and University of Massachusetts analysed catch landings and revenues from commercial fishers (reef fish, shrimp, spiny lobster and king mackerel) and surveyed recreational fishing guides operating within the Tortugas region before and for five years after reserve protection.

“This research shows that marine reserves and economically viable fishing industries can coexist,” said Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent. “The health of our economy is tied to the health of our oceans. They are not mutually exclusive.”

The full report An Integrated Biogeographic Assessment of Reef Fish Populations and Fisheries in Dry Tortugas: Effects of No-take Reserves can be found here.

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