Healthy Fisheries for Reefs

Photo by Klaus Stiefel

The Threat: Unsustainable fishing

Overfishing is a pervasive threat, thought to affect more than 55 percent of the world’s coral reefs. When people overharvest fish on a reef, whether for food or the aquarium trade, the entire food web is affected. On healthy reefs, seaweeds (also called macroalgae) are kept at low levels thanks to intense grazing by herbivorous fish, like parrotfish and surgeonfish. When these fish disappear, the delicate balance of the coral reef ecosystem is disrupted, and macroalgae can grow unchecked, smothering reefs and making it harder for coral larvae to settle. Due to a growing human population and increased demand for seafood, many fisheries are now overfished. Large quantities of biomass are removed, regardless of size or species. When reefs are overfished, fish populations decline and fishers respond by intensifying their effort in an attempt to catch something. Increased fishing effort can lead to the collapse or near-collapse of fish stocks, which not only threatens the economic stability and food security of local communities but puts coral reefs at significant risk.

Our Solution: Healthy Fisheries for Reefs

CORAL utilizes the following conservation strategies and actions to protect coral reef ecosystems from the harmful effects of overfishing:

  1. Conduct biological and socioeconomic studies to document the current status of fisheries and monitor changes over time.
  2. Establish or expand Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) in collaboration with local governments and communities.
  3. Collaborate with local governments and communities to establish sustainable fisheries policies and practices, such as limiting the type of fishing gear to reduce bycatch or establishing spatial or seasonal closures that reduce the catch of rare species, juveniles, and spawning aggregations.
  4. Increase compliance with fishing regulations by conducting law enforcement patrols, clarifying governance and building awareness among fishers about the detrimental impacts of overfishing.
  5. Address the underlying social and economic drivers of overfishing by promoting sustainable alternative livelihoods such as a cooperative community store or diver fee systems.
  6. Increase stewardship for coral reefs through education and awareness-building with community members about coral reef ecosystems and the threats they face.
Healthy Fisheries for Reefs Fiji

We have worked in the Namena Marine Reserve (Namena), Fiji’s largest no-take reserve, for more than a decade. Through collaboration with the Kubulau community and other stakeholders, we have helped develop a volunteer user fee system, whereby scuba divers pay a small fee to visit Namena. These funds are used to conduct patrols that enforce protection of Namena’s fishes, and support community development through a scholarship program that has benefitted over 200 students to date.

Healthy Fisheries for Reefs Honduras

In Honduras, we are ensuring that MPAs are effectively managed, including by enforcing fishing regulations. Our work has had measurable results: the 2015 Healthy Reefs Initiative Report Card reported that herbivorous and commercial fish biomass was significantly higher in MPAs that are regularly patrolled. In 2017, our efforts resulted in Honduras’ first coastal managed-access fishery being established in Laguna de Los Micos in Tela. These new protections enable the community to better manage a major coastal lagoon where many juvenile reef fishes grow up while creating an important model for fisheries reform in the southern Mesoamerican Region (MAR).