Subsistence harvesting by a small community does not substantially compromise coral reef fish assemblages

Martin, Tyson S.H., Connolly, Rod M., Olds, Andrew D., Ceccarelli, Daniela M., Fenner, Douglas E., Schlacher, Thomas A., and Beger, Maria (2017) Subsistence harvesting by a small community does not substantially compromise coral reef fish assemblages. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 74 (8). pp. 2191-2200.

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Abstract

Fisheries usually first remove large predators before switching to smaller species, causing lasting changes to fish community structure. Reef fish provide essential protein and income for many people, and the impacts of commercial and high-intensity subsistence fishing on reef fish are well documented. However, how fish communities respond to low levels of subsistence fishing using traditional techniques (fishing for food, few fishers) is less well understood. We use three atolls in the Marshall Islands as a model system to quantify effects of commercial and subsistence fishing on reef fish communities, compared to a near-pristine baseline. Unexpectedly, fish biomass was highest on the commercially-fished atoll where the assemblage was dominated by herbivores (50% higher than other atolls) and contained few top predators (70% lower than other atolls). By contrast, fish biomass and trophic composition did not differ between pristine and subsistence-fished atolls - top predators were abundant on both. We show that in some cases, reefs can support fishing by small communities to provide food but still retain intact fish assemblages. Low-intensity subsistence fishing may not always harm marine food webs, and we suggest that its effects depend on the style and intensity of fishing practised and the type of organisms targeted.

Item ID: 51690
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1095-9289
Keywords: apex predators, commercial fishing, conservation, coral reef, ecosystem functioning, fishing, isolation, Pacific, pristine, subsistence fishing, trophic cascade
Funders: Australian Postgraduate Award, Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Environment Decisions, Winifred Violet Scott Estate
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2017 07:46
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050204 Environmental Impact Assessment @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960604 Environmental Management Systems @ 100%
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