Cooperative monitoring, assessment, and management of fish spawning aggregations and associated fisheries in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico
Many species of inshore, coastal, and reef fishes in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GOM) aggregate to spawn at specific sites and times. These fish spawning aggregations (FSAs) can be highly vulnerable to concentrated fishing pressure, which can have detrimental effects on entire stocks and ecosystems. There has been only limited research and management attention on FSAs in the U.S. GOM. We synthesized available information on FSA locations, spawning seasonality, and fisheries management for 28 regionally important species known or likely to form FSAs in the U.S. GOM. We identified and mapped 22 multi-species FSA sites which all fall within areas predicted from recently published FSA distribution models. But the number of known sites is probably far less than the number that actually exist. Only three of the 22 (13%) FSA sites were located within no-take marine protected areas and none were in state waters. Management measures (e.g., seasonal closures or gear restrictions) to protect spawning fishes are also limited, particularly in state waters. We recommend expanded cooperative research efforts to characterize FSAs in the U.S. GOM in order to assist managers in prioritizing sites and seasons for additional protection. Important multi-species FSAs can be incorporated in a network of monitored and managed “sentinel” sites. These efforts should build stakeholder engagement in the management process, generate data that can be used to improve fisheries stock assessments, contribute to developing ecosystem-based fisheries management approaches, and confer resilience to important fisheries stocks and ecosystems of the U.S. GOM.