Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 1033–1063 | Cite as

The intrinsic vulnerability to fishing of coral reef fishes and their differential recovery in fishery closures

  • Rene A. AbesamisEmail author
  • Alison L. Green
  • Garry R. Russ
  • Claro Renato L. Jadloc


Coral reef fishes differ in their intrinsic vulnerability to fishing and rates of population recovery after cessation of fishing. We reviewed life history-based predictions about the vulnerability of different groups of coral reef fish and examined the empirical evidence for different rates of population recovery inside no-take marine reserves to (1) determine if the empirical data agree with predictions about vulnerability and (2) show plausible scenarios of recovery within fully protected reserves and periodically-harvested fishery closures. In general, larger-bodied carnivorous reef fishes are predicted to be more vulnerable to fishing while smaller-bodied species lower in the food web (e.g., some herbivores) are predicted to be less vulnerable. However, this prediction does not always hold true because of the considerable diversity of life history strategies in reef fishes. Long-term trends in reef fish population recovery inside no-take reserves are consistent with broad predictions about vulnerability, suggesting that moderately to highly vulnerable species will require a significantly longer time (decades) to attain local carrying capacity than less vulnerable species. We recommend: (1) expanding age-based demographic studies of economically and ecologically important reef fishes to improve estimates of vulnerability; (2) long term (20–40 years), if not permanent, protection of no-take reserves to allow full population recovery and maximum biomass export; (3) strict compliance to no-take reserves to avoid considerable delays in recovery; (4) carefully controlling the timing and intensity of harvesting periodic closures to ensure long-term fishery benefits; (5) the use of periodically-harvested closures together with, rather than instead of, permanent no-take reserves.


Coral reef fish Vulnerability to fishing Population recovery No-take marine reserves Periodically-harvested closures 



This paper is based on a review commissioned by The Nature Conservancy with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development of the United States Government (USAID) funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP). CTSP is a consortium led by the Word Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International. Funding was made possible by the generous support of the American people through USAID Project Number: GCP LWA Award # LAG-A-00-99-00048-00. The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID. We thank two anonymous reviewers whose excellent comments and suggestions greatly improved the paper. We are grateful to Alan White and Andrew Smith for making this work possible.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 273 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rene A. Abesamis
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alison L. Green
    • 2
  • Garry R. Russ
    • 3
  • Claro Renato L. Jadloc
    • 1
  1. 1.Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKCREM)Dumaguete CityPhilippines
  2. 2.Indo-Pacific DivisionThe Nature ConservancyBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Marine and Tropical Biology and Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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