Fishing down the reef slope: Characteristics of the nearshore deepwater fisheries of MesoAmerica

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JUST OUT: new scientific paper out on one of MarAlliance's regional long-term studies entitled “Fishing down the reef slope: Characteristics of the nearshore deepwater fisheries of MesoAmerica” led by Ivy Baremore, Technical Coordinator for MarAlliance and PhD student at the University of Exeter.

The deepwater fisheries of the MesoAmerican Reef (MAR) region are mostly small-scale, but they target species that are likely vulnerable to overexploitation due to conservative life history characteristics common to deepwater fish, including slow growth, late maturity, and low natural mortality. 122 deepwater fisher from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras were interviewed to asses their perceptions of the future of deepwater fisheries.

See the press release below and please request a copy of the paper from [email protected] or read the abstract here:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0964569121002568

Abstract
Deepwater fisheries in the Caribbean waters of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras are currently unmanaged, and there is very little monitoring of fishery landings. Increasing demand for high quality fish has led to the continued expansion of coastal fisheries into deeper waters in the region over several decades. The deepwater fisheries of the MesoAmerican Region are mostly small-scale, but they target species that are likely vulnerable to overexploitation due to conservative life history characteristics common to deepwater fish, including slow growth, late maturity, and low natural mortality. A total of 122 deepwater fishers from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras were interviewed to assess their perceptions on the status and future of deepwater fisheries, its history, current trends and prices. Deepwater fisheries in the region were mostly likely established in the 1970's, though outside of Belize fishers reported a longer perceived timeline. Fishers in Mexico, Belize, and Honduras mostly targeted snapper species, including silk (Lutjanus vivanus), blackfin (L. buccanella), wenchman/cardinal snapper (Pristipomoides spp.), queen (Etelis oculatus), vermillion (Rhomboplites aurorubens), and black (Apsilus dentatus) snappers while those in Guatemala targeted mainly sharks (mostly smoothhounds (Mustelus spp.), gulpers (Centrophorus spp.), sixgills (Hexanchus spp.), night sharks (Carcharhinus signatus), and dogfishes (Squalus spp.)) and groupers (mostly yellowedge (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) and misty groupers (H. mystacinus)). Fishers largely sold directly to consumers, whether individuals, restaurants, or fish markets, and Honduras is currently the only country with a strong export market for deepwater fishes. As coastal fisheries continue to decline, and access to depth sounders and GPS becomes ubiquitous, fishing effort in these fisheries is expected to continue to increase.

MarAlliance's deep water fisheries study in MesoAmerica reveals the sequential depletion of tropical small-scale fisheries from shallow to deep waters. Deep-water fisheries are now also at risk from overfishing.

The study reveals characteristics of deep-water fisheries in the MesoAmerican Reef (MAR) countries of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras in the recently released paper 'Fishing down the deep slope: Characteristics of the nearshore deepwater fisheries of MesoAmerica'. Fish that live in deep waters —more than 300 feet in depth — tend to live longer, grow more slowly, and reproduce at a later age than their shallow coastal counterparts. This makes them highly vulnerable to overfishing and less able to recover once their populations are depleted, declines that are already noted.

"When people think about Caribbean fisheries, they mostly think about lobster and conch, due to their economic importance. But fishers are increasingly turning to deep waters to supplement their income during closed seasons," reports the lead author Ivy Baremore, Technical Coordinator for MarAlliance. "The problem is that we know virtually nothing about the deepwater fisheries in the region or the species that are being captured and therefore it is difficult to identify conservation and management needs."

"This scientific study conducted with traditional fishers fills a critical information gap about the deepwater fisheries in the MAR that will shape management strategies for the fisheries to improve both the sustainability of yields and fish populations. This is a good example of how science can contribute to improving local food security and the protection of essential deepwater fish and their habitats. Such science-based fisheries management also helps Belize to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and underpins the global collaborative goal of achieving effective 30% protection of the seas by 2030" notes Dr. Rachel Graham, Belizean coauthor and Executive Director of MarAlliance.

Across the four countries, 120 fishers were interviewed about their fishing, history, and perceptions of the fishery. Deepwater snappers are the main target of the fisheries, and groupers are highly desired but already rare in some areas. While fishers listed the superior quality and size of the fish as a primary motivation for fishing in deeper water, fishers mostly sold their catch directly to consumers at prices that were similar per pound to lower quality coastal fishes. Honduras is the only country with a semi-industrial fleet that exports deepwater snapper. Fishers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras reported catching fewer fish than in the past, with declines feared in Belize.

### MarAlliance is a non-profit founded in 2014 to improve the status of sharks in tropical countries through inclusive science with fishers and coastal communities. Please contact Ivy Baremore [email protected] regarding this study and this press release, or Dr. Rachel Graham [email protected] regarding MarAlliance. MarAlliance, Belize City, Belize. www.maralliance.org.

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