Hydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning aggregations

TitleHydroacoustics for the discovery and quantification of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) spawning aggregations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsEgerton J.P, Johnson A.F, Le Vay L., McCoy C.M, Semmens B.X, Heppell S.A, Turner J.R
JournalCoral Reefs
Date Published2017/01
Type of Articlejournal article
ISBN Number1432-0975

Fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) are vital life-history events that need to be monitored to determine the health of aggregating populations; this is especially true of the endangered Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus). Hydroacoustics were used to locate Nassau grouper FSAs at sites on the west end of Little Cayman (LCW), and east ends of Grand Cayman (GCE) and Cayman Brac (CBE). Fish abundance and biomass at each FSA were estimated via echo integration and FSA extent. Acoustic mean fish abundance estimates (±SE) on the FSA at LCW (893 ± 459) did not differ significantly from concurrent SCUBA estimates (1150 ± 75). Mean fish densities (number 1000 m−3) were significantly higher at LCW (33.13 ± 5.62) than at the other sites (GCE: 7.01 ± 2.1, CBE: 4.61 ± 1.16). We investigate different acoustic post-processing options to obtain target strength (TS), and we examine the different TS to total length (TL) formulas available. The SCUBA surveys also provided measures of TL through the use of laser callipers allowing development of an in situ TS to TL formula for Nassau grouper at the LCW FSA. Application of this formula revealed mean fish TL was significantly higher at LCW (65.4 ± 0.7 cm) than GCE (60.7 ± 0.4 cm), but not CBE (61.1 ± 2.5 cm). Use of the empirical TS to TL formula resulted in underestimation of fish length in comparison with diver measurements, highlighting the benefits of secondary length data and deriving specific TS to TL formulas for each population. FSA location examined with reference to seasonal marine protected areas (Designated Grouper Spawning Areas) showed FSAs were partially outside these areas at GCE and very close to the boundary at CBE. As FSAs often occur at the limits of safe diving operations, hydroacoustic technology provides an alternative method to monitor and inform future management of aggregating fish species.

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