Illegal recreational fishing causes a decline in a fishery targeted species (Snapper: Chrysophrys auratus) within a remote no-take marine protected area
One role of Marine Protected Areas is to protect biodiversity; however, illegal fishing activity can reduce the effectiveness of protection. Quantifying illegal fishing effort within no-take MPAs is difficult and the impacts of illegal fishing on biodiversity are poorly understood. To provide an assessment of illegal fishing activity, a surveillance camera was deployed at the Seal Rocks no-take area within the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park from April 2017-March 2018. To assess impacts of illegal fishing activity in the no-take area, Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems (BRUVs) were used to quantify abundance and size of snapper Chrysophrys auratusfrom 2011–2017. BRUVs were also deployed at two nearby fished locations and two other no-take areas to allow comparison. Over 12 months of camera surveillance, a total of 108 recreational vessels were observed illegally fishing within the no-take area (avg 9.0 ± 0.9 per month). The greatest number of vessels detected in a single month was 14 and the longest a vessel was observed fishing was ~ 6 hours. From 2011–2017, the abundance of C. auratuswithin the Seal Rocks no-take area significantly declined by 55%, whilst the abundance within the other fished areas and no-take areas did not significantly decline over the same period. Lengths of C. auratus in the Seal Rocks no-take area were significantly smaller in 2017 compared to 2013 which was driven by a decline in the number of legal sized fish over 30 cm. Based on mean number of illegal fishers per vessel recorded in the no-take area, and an allowable bag limit of 10 C. auratus per person, it is possible that more than 2,000 C. auratusare removed annually from this no-take area. There is a strong likelihood that illegal recreational fishing is causing a reduction on a fishery targeted species within a no-take MPA and measures need to be implemented to reduce the ongoing illegal fishing pressure.