Research shows J'cans catching, eating juvenile parrotfish

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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Early findings from research into Jamaica's parrotfish population has revealed that Jamaican parrotfish are measuring smaller than the expected mature fish size, supporting concerns that the parrotfish being caught, sold and consumed are juvenile fish which have not been allowed to reach adult size. Research has also revealed low numbers of the species at the sites under study.

According to manager of the White River Special Fishery Conservation Area and lead researcher on the Parrotfish Research Project Dalelan Anderson, the maximum size of the Princess species of parrotfish is 35cm, but the average size observed at research sites in Montego Bay, Westmoreland and Negril was only 16.7 cm. The situation was similar for the Spotlight species, whose maximum size is 64 cm, while those observed in study sites measured an average of 17.3 cm. The Queen parrotfish, though exhibiting the highest adult sizes, still measured below the maximum size of 61 cm and were few in numbers, with often only one spotted per site.

“The research so far is showing that the average size of the parrotfish species is below full maturity sizes. If the research continues to find this true, our reefs will see less parrotfish in the future, as the smaller size, which are less mature, cannot produce enough young to sustain the population,” Anderson told the Jamaica Observer.

Though preliminary, the findings have added support for the call for implementation of parrotfish management strategies, including a minimum catch size.

Anderson said it is important that parrotfish be allowed to mature to full adult size as that is when the species is most effective at carrying out its important role in the marine environment — grazing on coral reefs in order to remove algae, and eventually excreting sand. This process, he said, is vital to the sustenance of healthy reef systems and marine life in general as inefficient grazing leads to an overgrowth of algae which smother the reefs and deplete the healthy habitat for other species of fish.

In addition to providing a habitat for a multiplicity of species, a healthy marine environment with healthy coral reefs helps to protect Caribbean islands from the devastation of storm surges by breaking huge waves before they crash inland. Healthy coral reefs are also critical to food security and to the livelihoods of those living in coastal communities.

The Parrotfish Research Project is being carried out by The University of the West Indies (UWI) and Sandals Resorts International (SRI) which signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the undertaking earlier this year. It forms part of SRI's Save the Parrotfish, Save Our Islands initiative and will see both organisations working together over 18 months to gather data to support official calls for the introduction of parrotfish management systems. SRI is providing funding for the project and is facilitating the dives through the PADI-certified dive centres at its resorts, while teams from The UWI's Centre for Marine Sciences do the actual research dives.

Sandals' deputy chairman and chief executive officer Adam Stewart said the partnership is an illustration of the company's commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.

“The role of the parrotfish in our marine ecosystems and the implications of their dwindling population is a critical issue that we all need to be aware of. Beyond awareness, we all need to play our part in furthering the message and in actively doing what we can to address the problem, and this research project is a giant step in the right direction,” he told Environment Watch.

The research team has deployed cameras and measurement tools to Montego Bay, Boscobel, and the Whitehouse and Negril areas of Westmoreland to determine fish composition, the variety of parrotfish species and their sizes.

Study sites inside of special fisheries conservation areas such as those in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Westmoreland were selected in order to compare fish stocks in designated protected areas with areas readily accessible by fisher folk.

In addition to dive research, the team has also visited fishing beaches to engage fisherfolk, study the characteristics of the parrotfish being caught, and conduct socio-economic assessment for fishing communities, many of which depend on the parrotfish to sustain their livelihoods.

Study sites both inside and outside fish sanctuaries and protected areas such as those in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Westmoreland, were selected in order to compare fish stocks in areas readily accessible to fisher folk with that of designated protected areas.

The project began in June and is expected to end in November 2018.

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