Effects of fishing on a coral reef fish assemblage in Northeastern Brazil

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Virginia Tech


Reef fisheries are important activities that support the livelihoods of millions of people. Reef fisheries exploit different habitats and typically target a diversity of species caught with a matching diversity of fishing gears. However, previous studies of reef fisheries have generally lacked detailed information on the catch and effort by gear and habitat type. In this dissertation, the sustainability of a coral reef fishery at the Marine Protected Area Costa dos Corais, Northeastern Brazil is assessed. In 1,833 landing interviews with local fishers, 100 fished species were identified and the total catch in kilograms for each species, the size composition of captured individuals and the habitat type exploited were recorded. First, the dissertation explores how fishing gears selected for distinct functional traits. A low competitive interaction between different gears was noted. Gears used in reef habitats selected for sedentary and benthic species, while gears used in coastal lagoons targeted highly mobile and pelagic. Second, the dissertation assesses how different gear affected the catch rates of coral reef fishes. Gears used on coral reef habitats had a more negative effect on catch rates than those used in coastal lagoons. The three gear types that affected catch rates more severely were hook and line, gillnet and cast net. Based on the results it is argued that the effects of reef fisheries on catch rates were highly depended on the vulnerability of target species. Finally, the dissertation assesses the ability of the fishing-down concept to assess the sustainability of the local fishery; the fishing-down is used to describe the process of moving away from catching large fish to progressively targeting smaller fish. I found strong support for the fishing-down, as fisheries decreased the average size of the fish assemblage and affected more heavily the catch rates of fishes with higher index of vulnerability. Overall results show that fisheries management should focus on the conservation of vulnerable taxa that are responsible for key ecological processes in coral reefs such as herbivory and coral predation. The decision-making process on management measures must be based on clear discussions with all stakeholders involved.



Coral reef fisheries, Functional traits, Marine Protected Area, Catch rates, Fishing gear management, Brazil