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Effects of spearfishing on reef fish populations in a multi-use conservation area

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-06-06, 11:30 authored by Ashley J Frisch, Andrew J Cole, Jean-Paul A Hobbs, Justin R Rizzari, Katherine P Munkres
Although spearfishing is a popular method of capturing fish, its ecological effects on fish populations are poorly understood, which makes it difficult to assess the legitimacy and desirability of spearfishing in multi-use marine reserves. Recent management changes within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) fortuitously created a unique scenario by which to quantify the effects of spearfishing on fish populations. As such, we employed underwater visual surveys and a before-after-control-impact experimental design to investigate the effects of spearfishing on the density and size structure of target and non-target fishes in a multi-use conservation park zone (CPZ) within the GBRMP. Three years after spearfishing was first allowed in the CPZ, there was a 54% reduction in density and a 27% reduction in mean size of coral trout (Plectropomus spp.), the primary target species. These changes were attributed to spearfishing because benthic habitat characteristics and the density of non-target fishes were stable through time, and the density and mean size of coral trout in a nearby control zone (where spearfishing was prohibited) remained unchanged. We conclude that spearfishing, like other forms of fishing, can have rapid and substantial negative effects on target fish populations. Careful management of spearfishing is therefore needed to ensure that conservation obligations are achieved and that fishery resources are harvested sustainably. This is particularly important both for the GBRMP, due to its extraordinarily high conservation value and world heritage status, and for tropical island nations where people depend on spearfishing for food and income. To minimize the effects of spearfishing on target species and to enhance protection of functionally important fishes (herbivores), we recommend that fishery managers adjust output controls such as size- and catch-limits, rather than prohibit spearfishing altogether. This will preserve the cultural and social importance of spearfishing in coastal communities where it is practised.



PLoS One



Article number



San Francisco, Calif.

Open access

  • Yes





Publication classification

C Journal article, C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2012, Frisch et al.




Public Library of Science