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NOAA research may help protect depleted Caribbean fish population

NOAA research funding shows that identifying spawning areas of reef fish like groupers may prevent overfishing and help to restore depleted fish stocks.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Friday March 1, 2013 - NOAA-funded research in the Caribbean is using the underwater sounds of reef fish, such as groupers, to identify areas where they gather to spawn — a behaviour that makes the fish easier to catch and susceptible to overfishing. The research may lead to more precise measures to protect spawning locations and thereby allow a depleted fish population to rebuild.

Scientists at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), working with Caribbean resource managers, are conducting the current research in an effort to protect populations of commercially and recreationally important grouper, one of the most valuable fisheries in the region. 

Groupers were once one of the most important species found in the fisheries within Puerto Rico. In 1975 the catch totalled 980,000 pounds, but since then has steadily declined such that in 2005 it was less than 83,000 pounds, a reduction of more than 90 percent.

University of Puerto Rico scientist Tim Rowell deploys boat based hydrophone to capture sound from spawning fish

Groupers and other fish make characteristic sounds when they gather to spawn. By recording these sounds with an underwater microphone, either lowered from a boat or mounted on the bottom, scientists can tell not only where the fish are, but also when and how many are there. 

The research may allow the technique to be expanded in the future to other species’ spawning areas. Protecting spawning locations is a critical element in recovery of depleted populations.

This research technique has high potential to aid not only in the protection and restoration of fish species in shallow water coral reef ecosystems, but is also being employed in NOAA-funded research at UPR on largely unexplored deeper water coral reef ecosystems that include species such as yellowfin and black grouper.

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