Buckets of fish! A study of the effects of the SMMA on fish catches

Fiona Gell, Post-doctoral Research Associate, Environment Department, University of York, Heslington, York , YO10 5DD, UK. Email: frg3@york.ac.uk

If you found yourself beside the sea in Soufriere over the winter months you may have noticed two women with a bucket, often in pursuit of a fisherman or two. What were they doing and why?

From September 2000 to the end of January 2001, Natty Faustin (Data Collector for the Department of Fisheries) and myself were studying fishing on the reefs in the SMMA. We interviewed fishermen, recorded where they were fishing and what they caught, and measured and weighed the fish in their catches. This information will be used to discover what effects the Marine Reserve zones in the SMMA have had on the fish catches that the fishermen are getting in the nearby fishing areas. Project leaders Callum Roberts and Julie Hawkins have been doing underwater surveys of fish numbers in the SMMA for more than five years and have found that numbers of fish have increased both inside and outside the Marine Reserves. This is very good news but we still need to know how these increases in fish numbers are affecting the catches. In 1995/6 Renata Goodridge (a Masters student at the University of the West Indies) and staff from the Department of Fisheries monitored catches and fishing patterns in the SMMA. We will compare their records with our new data to see how things have changed for the fishermen.

The important things we will find out from our study are:

  1. Have fishermen’s catches changed?
  2. Have the types or sizes of fish changed?
  3. How has fishing changed in terms of methods used, sites fished and time spent fishing?
  4. How do fishermen now feel about the SMMA?

We are now analysing the data at the University of York in the UK and will be able to share the answers to these questions and much more by the end of this year so watch this space!

Meanwhile here are some answers to questions we were commonly asked:

  1. How can the marine reserves help fishermen? Having areas where no fishing is allowed can help fishermen in a variety of ways.
    1. When you protect an area from fishing the fish will grow bigger and big fish produce many times more eggs than do small fish. For example, a single 10kg grouper can produce as many offspring as forty five 1kg groupers! Some of these fish will stay in the reserve and grow up, but many of their offspring will spillover into fishing areas and will be caught, so boosting catches.
    2. Some of the bigger fish will also move out into fishing areas and be caught as well so this means better fish for fishermen to catch and more of them!
    3. By not fishing in an area you give the coral reefs and other types of habitat a chance to recover from past damage and to grow more healthily. This in turn gives the fish and other animals a healthier place to live. Healthier fish will produce more eggs and more baby fish.

    In places where there is intensive fishing the coral reef changes for the worse. Some types of fish disappear and their loss can lead to overgrowth of corals by seaweeds. This reduces the numbers of fish the reef can support and leads to declining catches. Marine reserves help prevent these harmful changes from happening and so foster productive fisheries.

  2. Why do you measure the fish? Measuring the fish in the catches gives us lots of information that can be used to answer all kinds of important questions (we measured 13,677 fish in all!). We can look at how quickly the fish grow, how healthy the stocks of that fish are and how they are being affected by fishing. Comparing data from now and from 1995/6 we can see how fish stocks have changed over the years.
  3. Why the bucket? Whilst it was used at various times to bail boats, carry tomatoes and as an interview seat, the main reason you never saw us without a bucket was because a bucket is an indispensable fisheries tool! We used it to weigh whole catches, to pass fish between boats and to keep catches from different places separate when we were measuring fish.We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the fishers in the SMMA for their co-operation and support of this study and we look forward to meeting them all again when we come back with the results of the study. If you have any questions or comments about the study or would like any more information please write or email at the above address.