Towards sustainable multispecies fisheries in the Florida, USA, coral reef ecosystem

Jerald S. Ault, James A. Bohnsack, Steven G. Smith, Jiangang Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Southern Florida coral reefs generated an estimated 71,000 jobs and US$6 billion in economic activity in 2001. These ecosystem goods and services, however, are threatened by increased exploitation and environmental changes from a rapidly growing regional human population. To address these threats, we adopted an ecosystem-based perspective and developed a systems science analysis framework over the last decade to better assess and improve sustainable multispecies reef fisheries in the Florida Keys. Here we describe our progress and provide three example applications. We first built upon traditional catch and effort stock assessment methodologies by collecting spatially-explicit, fishery-independent data covering all reef fishes and reef habitats in the Keys. An optimized sampling strategy and a new length-based assessment framework provided synoptic spatial estimates of species abundance and size structures. Models were developed that encompassed the complex biological dynamics of fish stocks and a broad range of environmental and human impacts, including fisheries, non-target species, predator-prey interactions, species movements, ontogenetic changes in habitat associations, and physical processes. We show that the snapper-grouper fishery in the Florida Keys is experiencing overfishing and that stocks are overfished relative to established benchmarks for resource sustainability. Spatially explicit models demonstrated the potential effectiveness of no-take marine reserves to support sustainable fisheries, and were employed to objectively evaluate marine reserve boundary options in the Dry Tortugas. We show the importance of considering physical coupling and regional water quality changes resulting from Everglades restoration. A fishery systems science framework improves understanding of impacts from fishery extraction, ecosystem alterations, and natural oceanographic variability on the dynamics of exploited fish stocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-622
Number of pages28
JournalBulletin of Marine Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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