Symposium Abstract: Analyzing the Effects of Trap Fishing in Coral Reef Habitats: Methods and Preliminary Results
R. L. Hill, P. F. Sheridan, R. S. Appledoorn, T. R. Matthews, and K. R. Uwate
Trap fishing is common near coral reefs in Florida and the U.S. Caribbean but little is known about the effects of these stationary gears on targeted habitats. This cooperative study between NOAA Fisheries, local resource agencies, academic researchers, and the fishing industry is investigating the effects of traps on coral reef and reef-associated habitats in the Florida Keys (lobster and stone crab traps) and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (fish and lobster traps). The initial stages of the project are underway; they include: 1) mapping the distribution of traps, 2) quantifying trap densities by habitat, and 3) quantifying damage to corals and other structural organisms. Preliminary findings from the Caribbean suggest that a relatively small percentage (<20%) of the traps set in shallow water (< 30 m) actually contact hard corals, gorgonians, or sponges. In these limited findings, damage occurred mainly to hard corals and was patchy, at a scale less than the total trap foot print. Continued research will assess whether these preliminary findings are representative of coast-wide trap fisheries and will provide more precise data on trap fishing intensity by habitat type, seasonal movement of traps among habitats, and potential for gear impacts to associated habitat components such as seagrasses, macroalgae, and sponges. A better understanding of how trap fishing affects essential fish habitats like coral reefs is integral to the development of sustainable fisheries and improved resource management.