Monitoring Our Breeders: Building Capacity for Fish Spawning Aggregation Research in The Bahamas

by Dr. Krista Sherman, Senior Scientist at PIMS

From November 11-13, 2019, the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) conducted its first fish spawning aggregations training workshop under the Fisheries Research & Conservation Program. The workshop was focused on fish spawning aggregations, in preparation for the upcoming closed Nassau Grouper season.

Fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) are used by many species to breed or reproduce, and this strategy is typical of commercially and ecologically important fish like groupers and snappers. The FSA stakeholder training workshop was designed to help build national capacity to support research and monitoring of aggregating species within The Bahamas using standardized survey protocols.

Dr. Craig Dahlgren (Executive Director) and I led the workshop, which provided an overview of FSAs and their importance, a summary of in-country Nassau grouper and FSA research and explained how this information can be applied to assist with conservation and sustainable resource management. 12 individuals completed the three-day training workshop.

The FSA workshop included both interactive classroom and field-based activities. Classroom presentations and training activities covered fish identification (including spawning colour phases), size estimation, abundance estimates, spawning behavior, FSA survey techniques, fish sampling and processing, data management, and field safety

Fish models were used to demonstrate how to measure total length and estimate size. © Dolphin Cay Atlantis
 Interactive fish size estimation practice. © Krista Sherman (PIMS)
 Allison Ballester enjoyed dissecting this fish and examining the contents of its stomach. © Mallory Raphael (BREEF)
Theodore Swain conducting a fish dissection. © Krista Sherman (PIMS)

Participants were also given the opportunity to dissect different snapper species following a demonstration and review of fish anatomy. Field training consisted of fish identification, size estimation practice and assessments, and underwater visual surveys.

Casuarina McKinney-Lambert practices a survey dive off Neptune Reef, Bahamas © Allison Ballester (BREEF)
Trainees practiced size estimation underwater and were also tested to assess accuracy and help them improve this skill © Allison Ballester (BREEF)
Stakeholders during a survey dive practicing fish identification and roving diver techniques. © Krista Sherman (PIMS)
 Belt transects laid across the reef © Krista Sherman (PIMS)
 Walcott Miller practicing a belt transect survey. © Krista Sherman (PIMS)

This workshop gave some participants their first taste of this type of field work.

“I loved the practical applications and the dives. I thought it was super helpful to go into the field and practice surveys” commented one of the participants.

Another person said the workshop was an “Efficient use of time and great exposure/introduction for novice participants.”

Monitoring the status of FSAs is critical to assessing the health of fish populations. It is also a crucial aid when evaluating the effectiveness of management strategies. Based on my research, this is especially important for critically endangered species like Nassau grouper and it’s good to have a team of trained people to assist with FSA research moving forward. I am happy to share that these newly trained stakeholders will be participating in Nassau grouper research this spawning season.

 Group photo with workshop participants: [front row left-right] Walcott Miller, Frederick Arnett (The Nature Conservancy), Mallory Raphael, Allison Ballester (BREEF), Dr. Krista Sherman (PIMS), Casuarina McKinney-Lambert (BREEF), Natalie Miaoulis (The Nature Conservancy) [back row left-right] Antoine Taylor (Dolphin Cay Atlantis), Marvin Johnson (Dolphin Cay Atlantis), Todd Kemp, Theodore Swain (Marine Aquarium Operation Atlantis), Dr. Craig Dahlgren (PIMS), Linda Hammerton (Dolphin Cay Atlantis) and absent Janeen Bullard (Design Elements). © Dolphin Cay Atlantis

Dolphin Cay, Atlantis hosted this year’s fish spawning aggregations training workshop. The Moore Bahamas Foundation, Dolphin Encounters Project Beach, Disney Conservation Fund and the Perry Institute for Marine Science funded the workshop and created the training materials that were distributed. Special thanks to Nathan Jones and the staff of Blue Adventures for logistical support during training dives and to all attendees for their participation.

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