Mission 6 — Movement behavior of fishes: The role of scale and no–take protection in the Conch Reef

Mission 6 — Movement Behavior of Fishes: The Role of Scale and No–take Protection in the Conch Reef SPA/RO

Principal Investigator: Dr. James Lindholm, PIER
Training: October 31 — November 4
Mission: November 7 — 16

Marine reserves (MRs), also known as no-take reserves (a subset of the much more broadly defined term, Marine Protected Areas) are generating increasing interest as a tool for conservation and management of the marine environment. This interest in MRs has focused broadly on the conservation of biological diversity and on fisheries management. However, while the theoretical justification for MRs is extensive, and mounting evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of MRs as a management tool, empirical data on the utility of MRs for mobile taxa such as fishes is still needed. Key questions that will be addressed in this proposal include 1) whether or not a reserve is located and sized appropriately to protect species of interest (a conservation goal), and 2) whether or not there is "spillover" of exploitable fish from the reserve into surrounding fished areas (a fishery management goal).

A one-year project is proposed to investigate the efficacy of the Conch Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area/Research Only Area (SPA/RO) for the conservation and management of coral reef fishes. Using a seafloor-mounted acoustic receiver array deployed along the reef tract at Conch Reef, including sites inside the SPA/RO and in adjacent fished areas, site utilization and movement behavior of fishes with coded acoustic pingers surgically implanted will be quantified from the late Summer 2004 through the early Summer 2005.

The primary objective of this project will be to quantify the movement behavior of coral reef fishes, from four separate functional groups, inside and out of the Conch Reef SPA/RO. Specifically, the species targeted for tagging will include: Black Grouper (Mycteroperca bonaci), Yellowtail Snapper (Ocyrurus chrysurus), Princess Parrotfish (Scarus taeniopterus), and Hogfish (Lachnolaimus maximus). Fish from each species will be caught and tagged inside the Conch Reef SPA/RO in order to answer three questions:

What is the residence time, or site fidelity, of tagged fish from each species within the Conch Reef SPA/RO?
What is the rate of spillover of tagged fish from each species from there serve into surrounding areas that are being actively fished?
Is the movement behavior of each species mediated by major features of the landscape?
A minimum of 60 fish will be tagged in situ by saturation divers working from the Aquarius habitat. Fish will be captured using baited fish traps at three sites within the SPA/RO. Following anesthesia, V8SC coded-acoustic pingers will be inserted into the peritoneum of selected fish from each species. The fish will then be revived and released at the sites where they were captured. Each pinger will have a unique ID code associated with it, allowing the movement of individual fish to be tracked for months at a time.

The tagged fish will be tracked by total of 25 omni-directional, single-channel (69 kHz) VR2 acoustic receivers (VEMCO, Ltd., Shad Bay, Nova Scotia), which will be deployed at Pickles Reef, Conch Reef, and Little Conch Reef. Each receiver will continuously record the presence of any tagged fish within 300 m of its location. Eight of the receivers will be deployed within the Conch Reef SPA/RO to provide continuous coverage of fish movement within the reserve. An additional 11 receivers will be deployed around the periphery of the reserve to quantify any spillover of tagged fish into fished areas adjacent to the reserve. And two 3-receiver "fences" will be deployed at Little Conch Reef and Pickles Reef to capture any movement of tagged fish up or down the reef tract.

It is anticipated that the results of this study will demonstrate a) how effective the SPA/RO is for the management of fish species (both exploited and non-exploited species), and b) why the existing reserve boundaries are either effective or not based on their location relative to the submerged landscape. The results will increase understanding of SPA function in the FKNMS, and will help characterize aspects of essential fish habitat that will apply broadly to discussions about MRs as a conservation and management tool.