Community biomass and life history benchmarks for coral reef fisheries
The status of fisheries requires establishing and evaluating benchmarks derived from unfished ecosystems. Habitats, environmental conditions, properties of the fish communities and management systems could potentially influence the variability surrounding benchmarks. Consequently, eighteen variables including habitat, number of species, life histories, thermal and productivity environments were tested for influences on reef fish biomass in 62 reefs within old high compliance closures along the east African coastline. Biomass and weighted life history characteristics were classified and described for total, fishable, target and non‐target groups. Benchmark biomass fell within a 95% confidence interval of ~1,030–1,250 kg/ha and equally distributed among target and non‐target groups. While some relationships were statistically significant, most were weak, poorly sampled (ocean exposed reefs), had uncertain relationships with biomass (number of species), or the explained variation was bounded within the above confidence intervals (habitat and environment). Therefore, a regional unfished biomass benchmark (B0) of 1,150 and 560 kg/ha is recommended for total and target biomasses, respectively. Weighted life history metrics indicate that the target had slower life histories than the non‐target fish communities. Consequently, they will be fished unsustainably if yield recommendations are derived from the total, resilient or non‐target fish life history metrics. The intrinsic rates of increase (r) and target categorization of biomass were the most influential metrics in estimating yields.