Developmental patterns within a multispecies reef fishery: Management applications for essential fish habitats and protected areas

  • Lindeman K
  • Pugliese R
  • Waugh G
 et al. 
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Diverse information sets and regulatory mechanisms are necessary for the manage- ment of essential fish habitats (EFH) and protected areas involving multispecies fisher- ies. We therefore identified key pelagic and demersal developmental patterns among the 73 species of the snapper-grouper complex of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. Twenty-two potential spawning aggregation sites for eight snapper species near the Dry Tortugas and Key West were identified by commercial fishermen. Mean larval duration estimates were available for 15 species and ranged from 14 to 75 d. Larval durations for grunts, snappers, and groupers are within the residence times of some gyres. Settlement areas are depth stratified and, settlers often use shallower habitats than adults. Demersal stages of at least 50 species showed some degree of ontogenetic migration across the shelf, but most evidence suggests that strict estuary dependence is a rare life- history strategy among the species in the complex; facultative use of estuaries is more common. Including key nursery habitats in protected areas may not safeguard early life stages affected by coastal construction projects unless the design process is coordinated among agencies responsible for water quality and habitat protection through tools such as EFH. Sites that consistently support spawning aggregations for multiple species re- quire management both as EFH-Habitat Areas of Particular Concern and, potentially, as no-take protected areas. The most important known snapper spawning aggregation site in the lower Florida Keys is Riley’s Hump. Despite a site closure in May and June, aggrega- tions of several other snapper species are heavily fished later in the year. A year-round closure to protect both fish stocks and remaining habitat integrity is warranted. Coastal

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