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Protection from fishing alters the species composition of fish assemblages in a temperate-tropical transition zone

Abstract

Closure of areas to fishing is expected to result in an increase in the abundance of targeted species; however, changes to populations of species not targeted by fishermen will depend upon their role in the ecosystem and their relationship with targeted species. The effects of protection on targeted and non-targeted reef fish species at the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia were studied using baited remote underwater stereo–video cameras. Video images were collected from shallow (8–12 m) and deep (22–26 m) reef sites inside a Marine Protected Area (MPA) at each of three island groups and from three replicate fished locations at each of these groups that span a temperate-tropical transition area. The MPAs were established in 1994 and vary in size from 13.72 km2 at the Pelsaert group in the south to 22.29 km2 at the Easter group to 27.44 km2 at the Wallabi group in the north. The relative abundances of 137 fish species from 42 families were recorded. Large differences in fish assemblage structure existed between MPA and fished locations, and also between shallow and deep regions. Targeted fish species Plectropomus leopardus, Lethrinus miniatus, Lethrinus nebulosus, Pagrus auratus and Glaucosoma hebraicum were more abundant inside MPAs than in areas open to fishing. Their abundance inside MPAs was between 1.13 and 8 times greater than their abundance at fished locations. For non-targeted fish species many were more abundant in areas open to fishing, e.g. Coris auricularis, Thalassoma lutescens, Thalassoma lunare, Dascyllus trimaculatus, however others were conversely more abundant inside MPAs, e.g. Gymnothorax spp, Kyphosus sydneyanus, Scarus microhinos, Chromis westaustralis, Chaetodon spp. This study demonstrates that the removal of abundant targeted species from an ecosystem by fishing can indirectly impact non-fished species and alter the trophic structure of fish assemblages.

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Acknowledgements

This study was conducted with logistical assistance from the Department of Fisheries Western Australia. Financial assistance was received from The University of Western Australia (UWA), the Cooperative Research Centre for Coastal Zone, Estuary and Waterway Management and from the West Australian and Australian Governments Natural Heritage Trust initiative through the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council. Assistance with the analysis of video images by Dave Gull and Linda Heap is sincerely appreciated. We would also like to thank SONY Australia and Ray Scott in the UWA workshop for construction of the stereo–video systems. We greatly value the help given by Dr B. Hutchins in identifying numerous fish species and for comments on the draft manuscript. We are also extremely grateful to Dr J. Meeuwig, Dr R. Cole and Professor H. Choat for their reviews and improvements to the draft manuscript. The present study complies with the current laws of Australia.

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Correspondence to Dianne L. Watson.

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Communicated by G.F. Humphrey.

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Watson, D.L., Harvey, E.S., Kendrick, G.A. et al. Protection from fishing alters the species composition of fish assemblages in a temperate-tropical transition zone. Mar Biol 152, 1197–1206 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-007-0767-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-007-0767-0

Keywords

  • Fish Assemblage
  • Marine Protect Area
  • Island Group
  • Deep Habitat
  • Great Relative Abundance