Using science and technology to manage fisheries in the Coral Triangle… Survey says?

USAID_ASIA
By Kelvin Gorospe

What types of science and technology (S&T) innovations are currently being used or developed to improve our understanding of and ability to manage fisheries? And which of these technologies could be implemented in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle in order to promote sustainable management of their trans-boundary fisheries?

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

These are the big-picture questions being asked by USAID-Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA), to which NOAA was able to respond. Below is a brief summary of this effort. A full report, authored by Kelvin Gorospe of PIFSC’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Chris Elvidge of the NESDIS National Geophysical Data Center, as well as Keith Chanon, William Michaels, and Patrick Lynch of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Office of Science and Technology, is in the process of being completed.

In January 2014, Gorospe convened the “S&T core group,” composed of 36 science and technology experts across NOAA and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to design a survey that would answer USAID’s questions. In August 2014, the survey was released via NOAA’s International Affairs Council to all six of NOAA’s fisheries science centers and other NOAA offices, requesting participation from NOAA employees with either: i) technical or managerial experience working on S&T innovations or (ii) working experience in international capacity building for fisheries management. In addition, the Department of Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program coordinated the survey for DOI.

Graphic depicting the steps of the seafood supply chain with examples of the  information needs of fisheries managers at each step.

Graphic depicting the steps of the seafood supply chain with examples of the information needs of fisheries managers at each step.

The final framework of the survey was based on the seafood supply chain, defined as the entirety of stakeholders that are responsible from catching the seafood to bringing it to the consumer’s plate, including all the steps in between. The survey divided the seafood supply chain into the following four categories:

1. pre-catch
2. point-of-catch
3. point-of-processing or packaging
4. point-of-purchase or consumption

In addition, there was a fifth category–integration of the seafood supply chain–that highlighted the need for S&T innovations that could link together the various steps in the seafood supply chain.

For each point along the seafood supply chain, the survey asked participants to select the most appropriate S&T innovation that, if implemented in the next five years, would have the greatest impact on improving the overall management of Southeast Asia’s and the Coral Triangle’s trans-boundary fisheries. Participants were also asked to explain the reasoning behind their selection and to identify any foreseeable barriers to implementing the S&T innovation in the region.

Pie chart illustrating the area of expertise of all survey participants.

Pie chart illustrating the area of expertise of all survey participants.

Results and Discussion
Overall, the survey collected input from a total of 63 participants (53 from NOAA and 9 from DOI). Within NOAA, all six fisheries science centers as well as NOAA Headquarters participated in the survey, with the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and NOAA Headquarters having the most participating experts. The majority of participants self-identified their expertise as either “data analysis (43%)” or “field-based or remote data collection (41%),” with a minority coming from a laboratory-based setting (16%).

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the pre-catch level.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the pre-catch level.

Pre-catch
For pre-catch management needs, the most popular S&T innovation was stock assessment analysis (n=28; 45.2% of survey participants). Many respondents pointed to stock assessment’s authority as a “well-established process” and a “tried and true method” that is “proven to be an essential component of effective fisheries management”. The main barrier to implementing stock assessments, as reported by the survey participants, was data availability. Life history and population demographics parameters, fishing effort and gear, historical catch, as well as fisheries-independent abundance information were all mentioned as important data inputs. Yet, as one participant pointed out: “Innovative approaches are being developed for the data-poor fisheries typical of the region.”

Fisherman in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Fisherman in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Point-of-catch
Out of those who favored electronic monitoring (EM), many pointed to its overall credibility as a major advantage over other S&Ts. For example, it can provide “important and non-biased (relative to self-reporting) fishery dependent catch data.” Many participants noted that human observer programs should be included as an important component to point-of-catch monitoring, and point out that EM, if implemented, would only be useful in limited situations.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-catch.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-catch.

Another participant clarified that they would like to see human observers equipped with better technology: “Humans are still the best visual inspectors and if equipped with the proper technology will provide the best data.” Thus, funding human observer programs and creating career paths for observers was seen as an important complement to this S&T.

Regarding point-of-catch barriers, cost was seen as a major barrier for EM. In addition to cost, however, many participants also noted the potential for stakeholder resistance, cautioning that there could be fishermen concerns regarding data confidentiality as well as an overall lack of trust and willingness to adopt these technologies.

Fish market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Fish market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Point-of-processing or packaging and point-of-purchase or consumption
Among the different points along the seafood supply chain, there was the least consensus among survey participants for point-of-packaging and point-of-purchase information needs. Several S&T innovations were popular, with little dominating consensus for any particular one. In both cases, however, seafood safety and quality testing came out on top.

Fish market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Fish market in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

For supporters of seafood safety and quality testing, the main reason they selected this S&T was to reduce the amount of discarded seafood, which they reported to be a major issue, particularly for point-of-processing activities. Overall, reducing waste and inefficiency means less extraction from the ocean and more sustainable seafood resources. They also cautioned, however, that a potential lack of cooperation from seafood processors, manufacturers, and distributors could be a major barrier. Indeed, one characteristic of seafood safety and quality testing is that implementation would follow a HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) format–a gold-standard endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, but which also places more responsibility on industry to ensure compliance.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-processing or packaging.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-processing or packaging.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-purchase or consumption.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for gathering information at the point-of-purchase or consumption.

Integrating the seafood supply chain
Electronic reporting (ER) was the most popular choice among survey participants for integrating information needs across the seafood supply chain (n=20; 32.2%). As one participant described it, ER would enable “accountability and traceability at the greatest efficiency.” Stakeholder resistance, however, was highly cited as a barrier to the implementation of ER. One participant noted, “There is entrenched (primarily industry) sensitivity to sharing fisheries activity data between countries. And that stance is carried forward by government delegations at international forums.” This type of resistance, however, could potentially be addressed by better data management infrastructure. One participant noted that if electronic reporting is integrated throughout the seafood supply chain, that there will be a need to ensure “data security at the same time as allowing data sharing across multiple users and agencies.”

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Kendari Fish Market, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps (n=10; 16.1%) were also given moderate support for integrating the seafood supply chain. According to survey participants, the main advantage for smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps for seafood supply chain integration centered around its feasibility. Many comments about smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps highlighted their popularity and familiarity amongst the public. It was less clear what the main barrier to implementation is for smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps, likely because barriers to implementation are specific to the particular purpose of the technology. And for this technology, survey participants envisioned a diverse set of potential purposes: observers/crowd-sourcing public (e.g., recording species and size of imported fish entering the market), buyers/sellers (e.g., documenting the seafood’s chain of custody for the purpose of product evaluation), as well as consumers (e.g., supplying background information for making well-informed consumer purchase decisions).

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for integrating information throughout the seafood supply chain.

Bar graph illustrating the number of respondents and their preferred S&T innovation for integrating information throughout the seafood supply chain.

Lastly, integrated ecosystem and socio-economic models arose as another moderately supported S&T for seafood supply integration (n=11; 17.7%). Many comments, as expected, were focused on its integrative capabilities. For example, “seafood harvest and sales involves many players, and modeling these systems can best reveal how to manage the entire process.” Modeling has the ability to link the supply chain by combining data from multiple points throughout the chain. Human activities (e.g., fishing pressure, consumer behavior), ecological processes (e.g., recruitment, mortality, migration), and changing environmental conditions (e.g., ocean and climate change) can all be integrated as part of the model to predict how fisheries will be affected. The main barriers cited here were data availability and technical skill. As many participants noted, these models are difficult to develop and in order to be reasonably predictive, the models require a large amount of data that may not be available.

Final Remarks and Conclusion
Many respondents felt compelled to choose multiple answers even though the survey only allowed them to choose one. For example, for integrating the seafood supply chain, one participant suggested that electronic monitoring be combined with electronic reporting and/or smartphone and crowd-sourcing apps. As another example, one participant noted that for integrative ecosystem and socio-economic models, while these models are particularly powerful for integrating information from diverse data sources, it will still require data inputs about fisheries and ecosystems, which in turn would require the coordination of multiple S&Ts. Thus, it is important to realize that while the survey only asked participants to indicate their preferred S&T, one major limitation here is that it is actually the coordinated implementation of complementary technologies that has the greatest potential.

Fish MarketIn some cases, respondents commented on the limited ability of S&T to provide sufficient solutions. For example, several supporters of stock assessment for pre-catch information needs commented on the “inadequate and ineffective legal and regulatory support to implement fishery conservation polices.” Similarly, in advocating for forensic labs as a favored solution at the point-of-processing stage, one participant noted the “need to have a set of international standards, oversight, and verifications of the [forensics] results.” Indeed, well-recognized challenges facing fisheries in the region are poor governance and lack of transparency, issues that are difficult to address with S&T. Overall, these comments highlight the importance of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management (EAFM), which the region has recently begun to embrace and apply.

Finally, given the framework of the survey, it is important to take into the consideration that survey participants were asked to make broad, internal judgments for each question. It is important to note that the applicability of S&T, and the associated advantages and barriers of any one S&T over another becomes more specific only as we look for solutions to specific fisheries, political contexts, and capacities. Thus, if a specific fishery was identified, a follow-up survey could potentially be developed to explore in more detail how S&T can be coordinated to inform management priorities and fill information gaps.

This project was supported by USAID-Regional Development Mission for Asia

USAID_ASIA

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cooking up a Sustainable Approach to Fisheries Management in the “Kitchen of the North”

By Max Sudnovsky
Participants and trainers gather for a group photo during the Essential EAFM course in Dagupan City.

Participants and trainers gather for a group photo during the Essential EAFM course in Dagupan City.

Upon the request of the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), NOAA partnered with the USAID-supported Ecosystems Improved for Sustainable Fisheries (ECOFISH) Project to conduct an Essential Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) training at the BFAR’s Asian Fisheries Academy, in Bonuan Binloc, Dagupan City. Located on the coast of the Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines, 200 km north of Manila, Dagupan City is known as the “Kitchen of the North” for it’s famous dishes including bangus (milkfish), pigar-pigar (deep fried beef), and kaleskes (innards stew).

Participants get to know each other through a relationship mapping exercise.

Participants get to know each other through a relationship mapping exercise.

The week of October 19, Dr. Adel Heenan and Max Sudnovsky of the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center’s (PIFSC) Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), along with Dr. Robert Pomeroy, University of Connecticut Sea Grant, trained a total of 26 participants from BFAR Regional Fisheries Offices, provincial governments, state colleges, and universities, as well as members of the ECOFISH Project. The training team was enhanced by the expertise of Dr. Romeo Cabungcal, as co-lead trainer, and assisted by BFAR’s Abigail Javier and Karen Candilosas, all of whom were previously trained as Essential EAFM trainers.

Interactive exercise where participants form the building blocks of an EAFM plan.

Interactive exercise where participants form the building blocks of an EAFM plan.

The training was a compressed 4-day schedule of the standard 5-day Essential EAFM course for the Filipino participants. The fifth day was devoted to a workshop facilitated by the ECOFISH Project to enhance and customize the Essential EAFM training course modules for the Philippines. Selected by the BFAR for their extensive knowledge on fisheries management and their proven skills as trainers, the participants will later on be tapped to lead Essential EAFM training courses within and outside the agency. At the Opening Ceremony, speaking on behalf of BFAR Director Atty. Asis Perez, Dr. Westly Rosario, Training Center Director of the National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center, aptly challenged the participants “to leave behind a legacy” of training others toward the full implementation of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management pursuant to sustainable development.

Working to define the threats and issues for an EAFM by finding the balance between ecological well-being and human well-being through good governance.

Working to define the threats and issues for an EAFM by finding the balance between ecological well-being and human well-being through good governance.

An appropriate location for an EAFM training, Dagupan recently launched the “One Barangay, One Fish” project in the villages of Salapingao, Pugaro, Calmay, Pantal, and Lomboy. This project aims to motivate traditional fish farmers to shift from bangus to other high-value fish species in order to increase their earning potential. One family was selected per village and given one medium-sized floating fish cage made from local materials and fingerlings of talakitok, malaga siganid (rabbitfish), sea bass, and lapu-lapu (grouper). The program aims to help marginal fisherfolk maintain their own livelihoods and become self-sufficient.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It is whale season again, so let’s get ready

Humpback whale photo courtesy of NOAA photo library.

Humpback whale photo courtesy of NOAA photo library.

NOAA Fisheries  Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC), Pacific Island Regional Office (PIRO), NOAA Sanctuaries, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) and the U.S. Coast Guard, work collectively as a single team when it comes to responding to a whale that is reported to have gear entangled on its body.  This team is the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network.  Every year the Humpback whales migrate to the warmer Hawaiian waters after feeding in the food-rich waters of the Arctic. When the whales return every year, a few of them arrive with rope, floats or other gear wrapped around their bodies. The ropes and floats slow the maneuverability of a whale, sometimes it can make cuts into the animal and in general, the gear affects the health of the animal. Some whales have been known to die directly or indirectly from their entanglement and it is the team’s goal to safely remove the gear.

Knowing that whale migration is on a yearly cycle, The Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network met last week to go over their gear, discuss response strategies and hone their skills.  As it was pointed out…. “It is whale season again, so let’s get ready”. Whale disentanglement is extremely risky. In fact, people are sometimes killed by whales while attempting to free the animal. The task requires a lot of skill to work with lines under load, read animal behavior and stay safely clear of the animal. It is crucial that the team has the correct tools for the job and that this team knows to plan, prepare and train to do everything they can to set themselves up for success, since whale disentanglement is never easy and rarely goes to plan.

Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for NOAA Sanctuaries

Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for NOAA Sanctuaries

Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator for NOAA Sanctuaries goes over the response kits containing cutting tools specialized to reach and cut rope from long distances, telemetry buoys (round green object with “Leave on Whale” in foreground) and grappled hooks designed to grab the trailing gear behind the whale.

This year the team built a mock whale by converting an inflatable boat and adding a 9 foot wide tail to its transom.

Chad Yoshinaga, Mark Sullivan and Jessie Lopez ready the “mock whale” to be deployed for disentanglement training.

Chad Yoshinaga, Mark Sullivan and Jessie Lopez ready the “mock whale” to be deployed for disentanglement training.

The mock whale (15’ inflatable boat) had rope wrapped and tied around its tail and body. Once in the water another NOAA boat was used to drag it so to give the whale speed, and the ability to turn away from the responders, as would a normal animal. The team knows that there is a lot of technique and practice needed to get close enough to make the necessary cuts with a long pole. So practice they did. During the day, dozens of approaches were made, some with success and some with misses. However, their skills were honed and now they are ready for the whales.

For more information on the Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network please see the following link: http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/res/rescue_network.html

Posted in Scientific Operations | Tagged ,

2014 Summer Intern Symposium Video!

The 2014 Summer Intern Symposium at the NOAA IRC at Ford Island, Honolulu, Hawaii, now has a video, thanks to videographer Jessica Guillermo. Please check it out at the following url:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toyEjyDfChc

AGENDA — 2014 NOAA Summer Intern Symposium at the Inouye Regional Center Auditorium
1845 Wasp Boulevard, Ford Island, Honolulu, Hawaii 96818
Tuesday, 22 July, 2014, 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Name Home School NOAA Affiliation Mentor(s) Project Title
Christina Wine University of Hawaii at Hilo, Marine Science NMFS, PYSO T. Todd Jones Energy Flow Through Biological Systems 1
Olivia Hughes Washington College, Biology NMFS, NCCOS T. Todd Jones Energy Flow Through Biological Systems 2
Teresa Withee Bowdoin College, Economics NOS, Hollings Emily Gaskin The Value of Economics: Assessing Coastal Blue Carbon in the Hawaiian Islands
Alissa Phillips University of Akron, Biology OAR, Hollings Aidan Colton, John Barnes Mauna Loa Observatory and Climate Change
Charline Quenee University of Miami, Biology & Marine Science NOS, Hollings Allen Tom, Guerin Earhart, Emily Smail Public Perception of Marine Issues and Education Strategies at the Waikiki Aquarium
Jacob Tepper Oregon State University, Marine Biology NOS, Hollings Randall Kosaki, Daniel Wagner A Comparison Of Macrobenthic Organisms In Shallow-water And Mesophotic Coral Reef Ecosystems Of The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Lyndsey King Coastal Carolina University, Marine Science NMFS, Hollings Robert Humphreys, Edward DeMartini Body Lengths at Median Reproductive Maturity for Two Commercially Valuable Reef Fish Species
Thomas Vaughan East Carolina University, Atmospheric Science NWS/OMAO, Hollings G. Carl Noblitt IV, Rashed Chowdhury Seasonal Rainfall Variability and Forecasts for the Hawaiian Islands
Jeppe Stig-Nielsen University of Wisconsin-Madison, Economics NMFS, PYSO Kolter Kalberg, Dawn Kotowicz The Supply Chain Risk Management of Wholesale Fish Buying in Response to a Fishery Closure.
Nadia Tenouri University of South Florida, Marine/Biological Conservation NMFS, Hollings David Itano Fish Forever
Alice Chapman Williams College, Chemistry & Geosciences NMFS, PYSO Bernardo Vargas-Angel, Paula Misa Processing of Calcification Accretion Units Retrieved from 2013 NWHI RAMP Cruise
Heidi Hansen University of California Berkeley, Marine Science NMFS, PYSO Reka Domokos The Deep Seven: Improved Identification of Bottomfish Using Active Acoustics
Taylor Heckman Willamette University, Biology NMFS Angie Kaufman Hawaiian Monk Seal Health and Disease Program
Alexander Fontes Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Information Technology NOS, Hollings Robert O’Conner Geospatial Data Librarian
Michino Hisabayashi Clark University, Geography NOS, Marsh-Mosakowski Fellowship Douglas Harper, Robert O’Conner NOAA’s Sentinel Site Program and Habitat Blueprint – from observation to stewardshiptial
Jessica Lillquist Smith College, Environmental Science & Policy NOS, NCCOS (Agnes Shedd Andrae Fellowship) Douglas Harper NOAA’s Sentinel Site Program, Hawaii Cooperative: Climate change – from observation to stewardship
Anna Campbell Smith College, Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation NOS, Hollings Douglas Harper, Eloise Lee, Michael Pai Digital Storytelling for the Environment

For the overall event that day we thank the following:
• Presenters for their excellent presentations, and mentoring staff for allowing their interns to participate and preparing a few words to say following each talk.
• Jeff Hare, Mark Merrifield, and UHM JIMAR for sponsoring the PYSO program and for flying in one presenter from the Big Island.
• PYSO Committee and Oversight Group for support: Donald Kobayashi, Bernardo Vargas-Angel, Russell Watkins, Michael Parke, Dawn Kotowicz, Melanie Abecassis, Darryl Tagami, Huihua Lee, Erin Oleson, Maire Cahoon, Susan Kamei, Jeff Hare, Kevin Higaki.
• Donald Kobayashi for recruiting presenters, creating agenda, providing badges & snacks, and organizing the symposium.
• Jeff Hare for his opening JIMAR comments.
• Keoni Kuoha and his NOS PMNM team for performing the oli wehena “Puka Mai ka Lā i Kumukahi”.
• Deborah Yamaguchi for making our flyers and poster.
• Patty Miller for auditorium reservation, loan of easel, and other logistical support.
• Maire Cahoon for designing and making the name tags for presenters.
• PIFSC HALEA and Seminar Committee for providing the coffee and tea.
• Lucy Kaneshiro and PSD for loaning their cart.
• Shandell Brunson, Ed DeMartini, Erin Oleson, and Matthew Vandersande for moderating sessions.
• Wayde Higuchi for lending his personal camcorder for us to make a symposium video.
• Huihua Lee and Maire Cahoon for videoing the symposium.
• Evan Howell, Leonora Fukuda, Ron Yoshimoto for IT assist.
• Chad Sugimoto for setting up the WebEX session.
• Melanie Abecassis for compiling PowerPoints, overseeing presentation laptop, and other AV logistics.
• Matthew Vandersande and HuiHua Lee for Q&A microphone duty.
• Laila Siaris for expediting the access permits for off-site visitors and FN clearance.
• Steve Gallagher for advertising our event IRC-wide.
• PIFSC division chiefs and other supervisors for allowing their staff to participate.
• Sam Pooley for his opening and closing PIFSC comments and for staying all day!

http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/pyso/

Posted in Uncategorized

Expedition to survey and remove marine debris in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

By Mark Manuel

As the CRED marine debris team transits back to Honolulu on the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, check out some highlights from our successful mission to survey and remove marine debris from remote islands and atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Curious about the “dirty job” of cleaning up and sorting marine debris? the impact of plastics on endangered wildlife? where derelict fishing nets come from? debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan? Read about our 2014 expedition on NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog: www.marinedebrisblog.wordpress.com.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Recruits Finding a Home

By Kevin Lino

As a fish nerd (and biologist), I was excited to hear about unusual events occurring along Hawaii’s reefs this summer. While away on another research mission, reports came in from various sources and agencies about what was being referred to as a “biblical” fish recruitment event. Across many Hawaiian reefs, there were multiple reports from researchers, fishermen, and the public of juvenile reef fishes seen in extraordinary numbers. Not just one or two species either, but a wide variety of species. Species were also appearing in locations where they had previously been very rarely encountered. After seeing the pictures and reading comments about the amazing and unprecedented numbers, our team of scientists was eager to get in the water to conduct dive surveys.

Several juvenile Bluefin Trevally (Caranx melampygus) investigate research divers.

Several juvenile Bluefin Trevally (Caranx melampygus) investigate research divers.

This September, during the fifth year of a research partnership between the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED), of the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) of the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), we got our chance. We conducted the most recent round of biannual fish and benthic dive surveys focusing on the near-shore (<18m) reef habitats of the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area (KHFMA) on the coastline of West Maui.

A large school of juvenile parrotfish and surgeonfish cruise over the reefs in the KHFMA looking for suitable grazing spots.

A large school of juvenile parrotfish and surgeonfish cruise over the reefs in the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area (KHFMA) looking for suitable grazing spots.

Knowing that these surveys were occurring late in the summer, and that the recruitment may be more site-specific, we were surprised by the numbers. Nothing I would refer to as “epic” or “biblical” but definitely impressive. During four days of surveys, there was certainly an increase in recruited (the number of new young fish that enter a population in a given year) butterflyfishes, surgeonfishes, tangs, parrotfishes, and other near-shore fishes as compared to previous years. The variety was remarkable as numbers of protected herbivorous juvenile Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), Kole Tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus), and Lavender Tang (Acanthurus nigrofuscus) were rather abundant. Since 2009, herbivorous fishes within the KHFMA have been protected, but other groups of fish can still be harvested. This unusual management approach has proven much more acceptable to the public as compared to full closure measures. Therefore, if proven effective as a means of restoring herbivorous fish populations, and preventing coral-to-algal phase shifts, then this management approach has great potential to be more widely adopted in Hawai‘i and beyond. Observations seem to be trending in this direction with further analysis forthcoming from this data set and potentially continued research.

One of the many Hawaiian Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) recruits seen on the reef in the Kahekili Herbivore Fishery Management Area (KHFMA).

One of the many Hawaiian Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) recruits seen on the reef in the  KHFMA.

Our dive teams spent many hours underwater each day identifying, sizing, and counting these fish, as well as sea urchins, and collecting benthic imagery for more detailed analysis later. Divers also paid close attention to potential impacts to corals and the benthic community with much warmer waters being brought in by the current El Niño event. At least for now, little impact was noted during the time of our visit. El Niño is typically associated with a band of warm ocean water temperatures that periodically develop off the Pacific coast of South America and affect other areas in the Pacific. Since the mechanisms and impacts of this warmer water are still under study, the data collected this year will be especially valuable.

 A little White Tip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus) emerges from its resting spot within the shallows of the KHFMA.

A little White Tip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus) emerges from its resting spot within the shallows of the KHFMA.

There were other species sighted, likely enjoying the bounty, including the smallest white tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) that I’ve ever seen—at barely two feet long, pretty adorable. A large number of juvenile predators like Bluefin Trevally (Caranx melampygus) and various goatfish species were also fairly common. One colorful omnivore was sighted throughout all reef habitats on nearly every survey. The Hawaiian Fantail Filefish (Pervagor spilosoma) is an endemic species (only found in Hawaiian waters) that is uncommon on most dives. But as recorded in both Hawaiian culture and historical surveys, this species will have a “bloom” or “boom” year that we were fortunate enough to witness. It will be interesting to see how all of this year’s recruits will affect things in years to come.

Posted in Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,