WOD2014: White Fish Monitoring

This Sunday is World Oceans Day; a day that commemorates the beauty and importance of our oceans which are so integral to our survival. As can be expected for a tropical archipelago, the Galapagos Islands have an especially intimate relationship with the seas. In the run-up to World Oceans Day we shall be posting a series of daily blog articles on the marine wildlife and associated conservation projects in Galapagos. Today’s post focuses on the White Fish Monitoring Project.

WOD12

What are white fish? You may know them better as cod, haddock, pollack and other related fish with white and flaky flesh; in other words, fish that we like to eat. The term white fish covers a large range of species, some of which can be found in the Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR).

Given that white fish are commercially targeted species, there is inevitable pressure placed on fish stocks and as such it is important that we understand the biology and ecology of the fish in order to effectively conserve them. Galapagos is no exception and with the Islands now home to around 30,000 people and attracting more than 200,000 tourists annually, the pressure on GMR fish stocks is only going to increase.

That is why the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park teamed up on a project that GCT co-funded to research the numbers and behaviours of two key white fish species in the GMR: bacalao (a.k.a. Galapagos grouper) and wahoo.

In short, from 2011-12 scientists studied the numbers, reproductive behaviours, movements and eating habits of these fish. They found that wahoo and bacalao populations, whilst relatively healthy, were being slightly over-exploited. These results were passed on to the authorities with suggestions for a revised management plan.

One suggestion was a minimum catch size for wahoo (118cm). This was based on the fact that researchers found that, whilst the population showed signs of over-exploitation, wahoo are relatively fast growers. Bringing in a minimum catch size should ensure that the fish have already had a chance to reproduce, thus ensuring the next generation. Furthermore, as there tends to be a higher percentage of smaller fish between July and September, they suggested placing a fishing ban for this species during these months.

Rather than going into the details of the research, we shall use this opportunity to highlight exactly why the study was so important. On an academic level, it has allowed scientists to understand the role of these large and predatory fish in the complex Galapagos ecosystem. More importantly though, it has allowed the Ecuadorian government, as well as members of the local community (such as the fishermen which the researchers engaged with to measure and track fish), to play an active role in understanding and conserving these species on which people – and other living organisms – depend.

Engaging the local community is an essential part to a successful management strategy. By doing so, it is not only the ecosystem which benefits, but also the locals, who are an integral part of the system. If the community appreciates the importance of their role in the ecosystem, as well as the balance which must be struck between everything in it, conservation is much more likely to succeed.

As the weekend approaches and World Oceans Day draws nearer, remember that you can make a difference to global fish stocks by choosing sustainably sourced fish. If you would like to get involved with further marine conservation work in Galapagos, visit our website.

For more information about selecting sustainable seafood, visit the Marine Stewardship Council’s website.

by Jose Hong

edited by Pete Haskell