Hydroacoustics as a tool to examine the effects of Marine Protected Areas and habitat type on marine fish communities
Hydroacoustic technologies are widely used in fisheries research but few studies have used them to examine the effects of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). We evaluate the efficacy of hydroacoustics to examine the effects of closure to fishing and habitat type on fish populations in the Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP), Mexico, and compare these methods to Underwater Visual Censuses (UVC). Fish density, biomass and size were all significantly higher inside the CPNP (299%, 144% and 52% respectively) than outside in non-MPA control areas. These values were much higher when only accounting for the reefs within the CPNP (4715%, 6970% and 97% respectively) highlighting the importance of both habitat complexity and protection from fishing for fish populations. Acoustic estimates of fish biomass over reef-specific sites did not differ significantly from those estimated using UVC data, although acoustic densities were less due to higher numbers of small fish recorded by UVC. There is thus considerable merit in nesting UVC surveys, also providing species information, within hydroacoustic surveys. This study is a valuable starting point in demonstrating the utility of hydroacoustics to assess the effects of coastal MPAs on fish populations, something that has been underutilised in MPA design, formation and management.