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Independent survey data improves management of Caribbean queen triggerfish


Background:
Yellow and blue fish with green colored water in the background.
Queen Triggerfish (Balistes vetula) swims along ocean bottom. Credit: Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Queen triggerfish is a Caribbean reef fish that is harvested by local fishermen and sold to restaurants and fish markets throughout the islands. Due to this demand and its importance to coral reef ecosystems, this fishery is managed in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) through a Fishery Management Council as established through the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The Caribbean Fishery Management Council is responsible for the creation of management plans for fishery resources in the EEZ off Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands, which is where queen triggerfish are harvested. The Council must determine what is an acceptable amount of fish to take out of the water each year. They do this by conducting a stock assessment. The stock assessment evaluates several factors that affect a fish population -- such as biology, reproduction, and fishing pressure -- to predict how the fish stock will respond to management actions, both currently and in the future.

The queen triggerfish stock assessment provided scientists in NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) and Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) with an opportunity to apply independent survey data to a traditionally fisheries-dependent stock assessment.

A bar graph showing years 2001 through 2019 along the horizontal axis and density of fish from 0.0 to 0.8 on the vertical axis. A black line crosses the figure, going up and down with an overall upward trend.
Time series (2001-2019) of queen triggerfish (Balistes vetulus) mean population density (number per 178 m2) and error (±1 se) from the reef fish visual survey in the St. Croix coral reef ecosystem.

Key messages:

Data from the CRCP's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program has been recommended for use in the queen triggerfish stock assessment. This is the first time that the CRCP's fisheries-independent data has been used in a Caribbean Fishery Management Council stock assessment. By using these data, a more accurate assessment can be made and it establishes a way for these data to be used in future stock assessments.

An important part of this process included combining historical and current datasets. A calibration study performed by scientists at the SEFSC allowed for the historic time series (2001-2015) collected with belt-transects to be used in the assessment with the newly collected Reef Visual Census stationary point count method data (2017-2019). By combining these datasets, it is now the longest fisheries-independent dataset being considered for use in the U.S. Caribbean. This approach can (and should) be used for future stock assessments.


References:

Grove, Laura Jay W., Jeremiah Blondeau, and Jerald S. Ault. 2022. Fishery-Independent Reef Fish Visual Survey Population Density and Length Composition for Queen Triggerfish in the U.S. Caribbean. SEDAR80-WP-08. SEDAR, North Charleston, SC. 32 pp.

Grove, Laura Jay W., Jeremiah Blondeau, and Jerald S. Ault. 2021. National Coral Reef Monitoring Program's Reef fish Visual Census Metadata for the U.S. Caribbean. SEDAR80-WP-02. SEDAR80, North Charleston, SC. 55 pp.


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