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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

The contribution of macroalgae-associated fishes to small-scale tropical reef fisheries

Wilson, Shaun K.; Fulton, Christopher J.; Graham, Nicholas A. J.; Abesamis, Rene A.; Berkstrom, Charlotte; Coker, Darren J.; Depczynski, Martial; Evans, Richard D.; Fisher, Rebecca; Goetze, Jordan; Hoey, Andrew; Holmes, Thomas H.; Kulbicki, Michel; Noble, Mae; Robinson, James P. W.; Bradley, Michael; Akerlund, Carolina; Barrett, Luke T.; Bucol, Abner A.; Birt, Matthew J.;
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Macroalgae-dominated reefs are a prominent habitat in tropical seascapes that support a diversity of fishes, including fishery target species. To what extent, then, do macroalgal habitats contribute to small-scale tropical reef fisheries? To address this question we: (1) Quantified the macroalgae-associated fish component in catches from 133 small-scale fisheries, (2) Compared life-history traits relevant to fishing (e.g. growth, longevity) in macroalgal and coral-associated fishes, (3) Examined how macroalgae-associated species can influence catch diversity, trophic level and vulnerability and (4) Explored how tropical fisheries change with the expansion of macroalgal habitats using a case study of fishery-independent data for Seychelles. Fish that utilised macroalgal habitats comprise 24% of the catch, but very few fished species relied entirely on macroalgal or coral habitats post-settlement. Macroalgal and coral-associated fishes had similar life-history traits, although vulnerability to fishing declined with increasing contribution of macroalgae association to the catch, whilst mean trophic level and diversity peaked when macroalgal-associated fish accounted for 20%-30% of catches. The Seychelles case study revealed similar total fish biomass on macroalgal and coral reefs, although the biomass of primary target species increased as macroalgae cover expanded. Our findings reinforce that multiple habitat types are needed to support tropical fishery stability and sustainability. Whilst coral habitats have been the focus of tropical fisheries management, we show the potential for macroalgae-associated fish to support catch size and diversity in ways that reduce vulnerability to overfishing. This is pertinent to seascapes where repeated disturbances are facilitating the replacement of coral reef with macroalgal habitats.


catch composition; coral reefs; ecosystem-based management; Regime shifts; Sargassum; seaweed habitats

Published in

Fish and Fisheries
2022, Volume: 23, number: 4, pages: 847-861
Publisher: WILEY