Habitat preservation is a critical part of good ocean fisheries management

Marine fisheries management aims to keep fish populations at sustainable levels while producing seafood. Fisheries that are assessed to be overfished must have their populations rebuilt to sustainable levels by reducing catches to lower levels. Usually the assessment of status relies on a complicated fisheries stock assessment model, sort of like a weather forecast for fisheries, that estimates the level of sustainable catch that can be taken from a fisheries population. But these models seldom take into account changes in fish habitat. A new paper now highlights the critical role that fish habitat plays in assessing the status of fisheries, noting that nearly half of assessed fisheries rely heavily on habitats that are degrading over time, such as seagrass, mangroves, coral reefs, and kelp forests. Since so many types of habitats are in decline, assessments of fisheries status must take this into account when trying to understand why some fish numbers are going down over time. The authors urge for a higher profile to be placed on protecting fisheries habitat in addition to controlling catches and other more traditional forms of marine fisheries management. The new paper led by Christopher Brown of Griffith University, Australia, includes SAFS professor Trevor Branch as a coauthor, and was published in the journal Fish and Fisheries.

Ways in which changes in habitat quality can affect a fish species that uses different habitats as it ages. Spawning habitat, refuge for baby fish, and anoxic areas will all affect the total population size and assessments of fish status.
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