How About Giving Fish Some Privacy Space?

Paul_Humannassau_grouper_spawning_aggregation© Paul Humann, Reef Environmental Education Foundation Grouper Moon Project, REEF.org/groupermoonproject

Some fish, such as these Nassau groupers in the Cayman Islands, make an epic journey to special places to spawn. It is an event rarely witnessed.

At certain times each year, many types of fish find their way to special gathering places for a mating ritual that helps determine the survival of their species. They can arrive by the thousands, and some may travel hundreds of miles.

If left alone, these fish will help supply the next generation. But concentrated in one area, they are easy prey for fishermen. Some spawning locations throughout the world have become fishing hot spots and, as a result, species have dwindled.

This is why fishery managers in the southeastern United States are discussing a new proposal to identify important areas where fish gather to breed, and set rules to protect them from fishing.

During two weeks of public meetings starting August 6, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will hear what people think about the concept. Sessions are set in all the states where the council governs fish policy in federal waters (3 to 200 miles offshore):  Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

In April, an expert group of fishermen endorsed the idea of spawning protections. The snapper-group advisory panel, which provides advice to the council, said it’s critical to give some species a better chance to reproduce more, including groupers and snappers. Those species form the backbone of fishing businesses and are a favorite catch of recreational anglers.

Fishery managers have been considering the idea of protecting spawning fish for years. But prior proposals focused only on a couple of declining populations. Now the council is taking a big-picture approach and considering protections for areas that could benefit many different species.

Protecting spawning areas can boost healthy fish populations and help struggling ones improve. It has worked well in other places. For example, in the Gulf of Mexico’s Madison Swanson reserve, the once-dwindling gag grouper are rebounding. In Belize, where fishermen support safe zones, the imperiled Nassau grouper population is growing healthier. Some experts report seeing young Nassau groupers throughout the region in recent years And at the Dry Tortugas Ecological Reserve in South Florida, depleted fish are recovering, with individuals of many species—mutton snapper, red grouper, yellowtail snapper, and hog snapper—growing larger and more numerous. In fact, some species increased in abundance and size both inside the reserve and throughout the region.

With millions of pounds of fish caught annually off the Southeast coast, we should give fish a little time and space to themselves. We’ll reap the rewards when the future generations fill up our boats and dinner plates, and the ocean ecosystem will be healthier.

Holly Binns directs U.S. ocean conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts in the Southeast and U.S. Caribbean.

Underwater Life
Underwater Life
Fact Sheet

Protecting Places Where Underwater Life Begins

Read more
Quick View
Fact Sheet

At special times each year, certain fish find their way to unique gathering places for a mating ritual that helps determine the survival of their species.

Read more

Spotlight on Mental Health

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies

Explore

Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.