The first step in conserving spawning aggregations is to identify them, an oftentimes challenging but rewarding activity that usually involves a bit of detective work. Such work includes background research on known sites and methods, interacting with fishers and fishing communities, and field investigations. The following sections highlight many of the methods available to assist local resource practitioners in locating and conserving FSA sites. Since FSAs may be the primary source of new larval recruitment into the area, and because much of an area’s spawning stock biomass may be held within them at any one time, identifying FSAs for protection is critical. Unfortunately, FSAs have been traditionally excluded from MPA planning, and often lie outside existing MPAs. FSAs are also sometimes found in areas that may not otherwise appear as very important to local ecosystems and ecosystem function. However, this is hardly the case, and it is imperative that FSAs be located and conserved as rapidly as possible to prevent changes within ecosystems and fisheries that accompany FSA loss.
A variety of resources are available to assist marine managers in achieving FSA site identification, including fishers and other fishing industry personnel, published and unpublished literature, and weblinks, among others. In addition, a number of clues provided by both the fishery and the fish themselves can help define your focus, for example, seasonal peaks in catch and changes in reproductive status of captured, or marketed, fish. In addition, a range of techniques are available for describing, monitoring and mapping FSA sites that are found herein. Fortunately for marine resource managers, global awareness is growing concerning the vulnerability of spawning aggregation sites, and the importance of identifying and protecting them. As such, the amount and quality of information on identifying, describing, managing, and conserving FSAs is also growing.
Information gathering is the first step in locating and managing FSAs. This can take a variety of forms, but should begin with a review of available literature or web-based materials, followed by interviews with fishers who are typically a good source for reliable information on local FSAs and the history of local fisheries. Gaining the trust of fishers and interviewing them is not always an easy task and requires excellent social skills, an understanding and respect of local cultures, at least a basic knowledge of local fishes and fishing methods, and a grasp of proven interview techniques.
While there are a variety of other methods useful for locating FSAs, fishers can often provide the most direct, complete and cost-effective method for locating FSAs. Additional sources of information useful in locating FSA sites, or determining spawning times, can include direct examination of catch; observation of fisher habits; or knowledge gained from local fishing guides, reports, and fisheries catch statistics. Some of this information may be found by visiting local fish markets, landing sites, marine resource agencies, fishing cooperatives, sport or commercial fishing clubs and local conservation or academic organizations.
The Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations is one of the easiest and most accessible websites for assistance in identifying FSAs, and provides information for talking to fishermen, as well as a practical information guide or handbook for local practitioners. For specific information on identifying FSAs, see Section III of the Methods Manual.