Artificial reefs’ effect on fish populations comes under question

Posted: 11/15/2011 in all marine news

Kate Spinner –

Artificial reefs — long believed to boost fish populations — might be doing the opposite by concentrating fish and fishermen in the same places.

For decades, Gulf of Mexico fishing regulators have tried to rebuild depleted popular reef fish, including grouper and snapper, with limited success, despite increased restrictions.

Meanwhile, many coastal communities have looked to artificial reefs as a way to increase fish populations, to provide better fishing for the public and to dispose of large piles of refuse.

But while sunken ships, concrete rubble, Army tanks and oil rigs do a great job of attracting fish, they do not help them grow and reproduce, scientists and regulators say.

Rather, they concentrate fish in widely publicized spots, making them more vulnerable to hooks and spears.

Despite their limitations, artificial reefs could still play an important role in helping select species survive to breeding age.

But reefs designed for conservation are not likely to succeed if they also serve as fishing destinations.

“You can use them as a tool for economies. You may be able to use them as a tool for ecological benefits, but you can’t necessarily do both simultaneously with the same reef,” said William Lindberg, a fisheries science professor at University of Florida in Gainesville.

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