Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Data Buoy Science

Gray's Reef Fish Have Responded to Heavy Fishing Pressure

Black Sea Bass at Gray's Reef

A black sea bass using the bottom habitat at Gray's Reef

Fish at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary show all the signs of heavy fishing according to Matt Kendall of NOAA, lead biologist in a recently completed study designed to inventory habitats and fish communities at Gray's Reef.

"We observed an abrupt decline in abundance of black sea bass and groupers above the size limit of the fishery", said Kendall. The study also revealed that one of the largest grouper species in the sanctuary were especially reduced in size and abundance in the heavily fished areas. The scientists counted fish on scuba surveys to identify their habitat requirements and then looked at sea floor maps of the sanctuary to predict the overall distribution of fish.

Kendall added, "We found small schools of large grouper at only a handful of the 92 ledges that we surveyed. This demands a cautious approach in fishing at Gray's Reef since just a small level of effort on a few ledges could substantially impact one of the sanctuary's hallmark species."

In the course of the study, distribution, habitat preference and population size ranges for three popular target fish of bottom fishermen--black sea bas, gag grouper and scamp-- were examined. All three species showed a reduction of size and abundance.

Kendall's complete paper, "Influence of Benthic Features and Fishing Pressure on Size and Distribution of Three Exploited Reef Fishes from the Southeastern United States", has been recently published in the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. The full text of the paper can be found here.

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