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Effects of an artisanal fishery on non-spawning grouper populations

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Abstract

Many populations of groupers (Teleostei: Serranidae) are overfished, partly because most species form spawning aggregations that are temporally and spatially predictable and therefore easily targeted by fisheries. However, most grouper fisheries operate year-round, thus there can also be high mortality during non-spawning periods. We investigated the impact of fishing around Anguilla, British West Indies, on a commercially important grouper, the red hind Epinephelus guttatus, during the non-breeding season. We combined information on the spatial intensity of the fishery with underwater surveys of groupers to test for associations between fishing intensity and fish size and density across 19 sites. Red hind density was unrelated to fishing intensity but red hinds were larger in areas that were targeted more intensively by fishers. While these results might be taken to suggest that fishing has no negative impacts on red hind demographics, we present evidence from fish markets that fishing intensity on this species during the non-spawning season is high. A variety of mechanisms may mask site-specific negative impacts on density and size of red hinds. In particular, fishers can easily move among sites to track grouper abundance and body size, thereby making it difficult to detect impacts on red hinds during the non-spawning season.

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