Effects of Customary Marine Closures on Fish Behavior, Spear-Fishing Success, and Underwater Visual Surveys

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Journal Article
Conservation Biology, 2011, 25 (2), pp. 341 - 349
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Customary management systems (i.e., management systems that limit the use of marine resources), such as rotational fisheries closures, can limit harvest of resources. Nevertheless, the explicit goals of customary management are often to influence fish behavior (in particular flight distance, i.e., distance at which an organism begins to flee an approaching threat), rather than fish abundance. We explored whether the flight distance of reef fishes targeted by local artisanal fishers differed between a customary closure and fished reefs. We also examined whether flight distance of these species affected fishing success and accuracy of underwater visual census (UVC) between customary closed areas and areas open to fishing. Several species demonstrated significant differences in flight distance between areas, indicating that fishing activity may increase flight distance. These relatively long flight distances mean that in fished areas most target species may stay out of the range of spear fishers. In addition, mean flight distances for all species both inside and outside the customary-closure area were substantially smaller than the observation distance of an observer conducting a belt-transect UVC (mean [SE]= 8.8 m [0.48]). For targeted species that showed little ability to evade spear fishers, customary closures may be a vital management technique. Our results show that customary closures can have a substantial, positive effect on resource availability and that conventional UVC techniques may be insensitive to changes in flight behavior of fishes associated with fishing. We argue that short, periodic openings of customary closures may allow the health of the fish community to be maintained and local fishers to effectively harvest fishes. ©2010 Society for Conservation Biology.
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