Effects of a single intensive harvest event on fish populations inside a customary marine closure
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In September 2008, the villagers of Kia Island, Fiji, opened their customary managed closure (Cakaulevu tabu) to fishing for a fundraiser that lasted for 5 weeks. We report on opportunistic before-after-control-impact surveys describing changes to coral reef communities both 4 weeks into the harvest and 1 year later compared with pre-harvest conditions. Prior to the harvest, there was a gradient in mean fish abundance and biomass per transect, with highest levels in the north of the closure (250 fish transect−1, 8,145.8 kg ha−1), intermediate levels in the south of the closure (159 fish transect−1, 4,672.1 kg ha−1) and lowest levels in the control area open to fishing (109 fish transect−1, 594.0 kg ha−1). During the harvest, there were extensive depletions in large-bodied, primary targeted fish species, with significant loss in biomass of Acanthuridae and Carangidae in the north and Lutjanidae and Serranidae in the south. We also observed significant increases in Acanthuridae, Lethrinidae and Scaridae in the control, suggesting a “bail-out” effect whereby fish left the closure in response to a rapid increase in fishing pressure. These changes were coupled with a large increase in turf algal cover at all survey areas, despite a large numerical increase in small, roving acanthurids (e.g., Ctenochaetus striatus) and scarids (e.g., Chlorurus sordidus). By 1 year later, fish biomass was significantly lower within the closure than before the harvest, while values in the control returned to pre-harvest levels, suggesting non-compliance with the reinstated fishing ban. We use the lessons learned from this event to suggest recommendations for promoting effective management of periodically harvested customary closures that are a common feature across much of Oceania.