Marine reserves in Australia help sustain fisheries

By Tierney Smith

The researchers studies two fish species including the coral trout. (© Phil Woodhead, Wet Image Underwater Photography)

Marine reserves help to sustain fisheries on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, according to a new DNA study.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, used DNA profiling of adult and juvenile fish to track the dispersal pathways of fish larvae within a network of marine reserves on the reef.

They estimated that while marine reserves make up just 28% of the reef area, around half of all juvenile recruitment to both reserves and fished reefs in the study area, came from the reserves.

“Until now, no one had been able to show that adequately protected reserve networks can make a significant contribution to the replenishment of fished populations,” said Geoff Jones, lead author of the study.

“The fate of the offspring of fish in the reserves has been a long-standing mystery. Now we can clearly show that the benefits of reserves spread beyond reserve boundaries.”

The researchers focused their attention on two commercially and recreationally targeted fish, taking samples from 446 adult coral trout and 1,154 adult stripey snapper across three marine reserves during the four weeks of the peak reproductive season.

They then examined both species over the next 15 months from 19 protected and fished areas around a 30 mile radius of the focal marine reserves.

The researchers said their estimate of 50% takes into account the expected contribution made by unsampled adults and additional reef area in unsampled reserves.

They also said they hope the latest results will push policymakers and governments to recognise the benefits of marine reserve networks for both conservation and fisheries.

“Most importantly, I hope that recreational, artisanal, and commercial fishers will no longer perceive marine reserves as the ‘fish that got away’ but rather as the ‘golden goose’ of sustainable fishing practices,” said the study’s co-author Hugo Harrison.

Read the full research paper here.

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