Coral Reef NOAA
May 30, 2016  

Fishing Impacts

fisherman with wrasse
Fishing plays a central social and cultural role in many island communities and can represent a critical source of protein, but must be conducted sustainably if reef fisheries are to be maintained for future generations. Photo credit: Christy Loper

Fishing impacts in coral reef areas, when ecologically unsustainable, can lead to the depletion of key functional groups of reef species in many locations, with cascading impacts on coral reef habitats and associated species and ecosystems.

Coral reefs and associated habitats provide important commercial, recreational and subsistence fishery resources in the United States. Fishing plays a central social and cultural role in many island communities and can represent a critical source of protein. But coral reef fisheries, though often relatively small in scale, may have disproportionately large impacts on the ecosystem if conducted unsustainably. Rapid human population growth, demand for fishery resources, use of more efficient fishery technologies, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of key reef species and habitat damage in many locations. Specific impacts of fishing on reefs generally include one or more of the following: 1) direct overexploitation of fish, invertebrates, and algae for food and the aquarium trade; 2) removal of a species or group of species impacting multiple trophic levels; 3) by-catch and mortality of non-target species; and 4) physical impacts to reef environments associated with fishing techniques, fishing gear, and anchoring of fishing vessels. Such threats are exacerbated when coupled with other coral reef stressors such as climate change and land-based sources of pollution.

school of yellowspot emperors
A school of yellowspot emperors (Gnathodentex aurolineatus) in Tumon Bay Marine Preserve, Guam. Setting aside no-take areas for fish to grow and spawn can increase numbers and size of key reef species. Photo credit: Dave Burdick

Assessments such as the region-wide efforts in the US Pacific have demonstrated declines in reef fish abundance and correlations between reduced fish biomass and proximity to human population centers. In addition, socioeconomic studies have documented fishers' perceptions that fish are less abundant and coral reef health has declined. Work in US coral reef jurisdictions has shown; however, that appropriate management actions can reverse these trends. For instance, 'no-take' areas in the Florida Keys and marine preserves in Guam have resulted in increased numbers and size of economically and ecologically important reef fish. Management actions focused on key coral reef species, such as the Fish Replenishment Areas in West Hawai`i, have also demonstrated success in protecting reproductive stock and maintaining the fishery for important aquarium trade species.

For more information:

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program Goals & Objectives 2010-2015
Caribbean Fishery Management Council
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council
National Marine Protected Areas Center
ReefBase Resources - Reef Fisheries / Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network
ReefBase Status - Reef Fisheries / Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network