Contact: Chris Smith


NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Geological Survey scientists recently completed a study on the effects of a 40 square kilometer no fishing area on fish populations near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Despite a growing interest in establishing permanent 'no-take' reserves for conservation purposes, such actions have been controversial because of a lack of examples and long-term studies.

The objective of this study was to compare abundance, size, distribution, and movement of adult-sized sport and commercial fish species between the areas closed and open to fishing. The results of this study have been published in a article entitled "The Effectiveness of an Existing Estuarine No-take Fish Sanctuary Within the Kennedy Space Center, Florida." The authors, Darlene R. Johnson and James A. Bohnsack of NOAA Fisheries and Nicholas A. Funicelli of the USGS, examined fish populations inside and outside of no-take zones established for security operations at the Kennedy Space Center.

"Approximately 22 percent of the waters of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses the Kennedy Space Center, have been closed to public access and fishing since 1962," said Bohnsack. "This protected area is one of the oldest and largest no-fishing zones in North America and offered a unique opportunity to test the effectiveness of no-take sanctuaries."

From November 1986 to January 1990 the research team sampled fishes in areas open and closed to fishing using 653 random trammel net sets, each enclosing 3,717 square meters. Team members measured and weighed then tagged and released all the fish of five selected species that were entrapped in the nets. Samples from no fishing areas had significantly greater abundance and larger fishes than fished areas. Relative abundance in protected areas was 2.4 times greater than the fished areas for total gamefish, 2.4 times greater for spotted seatrout, 6.3 times higher for red drum, 12.8. times higher for black drum, 5.3 times higher for common snook, and 2.6 times higher for striped mullet.

Throughout the study, the team carefully monitored seasonal variations as well as variations in water salinity, depth and temperature. The team found that, independent of habitat and other environmental factors, fishing had the primary effect on catch per unit effort.

"The median and maximum size of fish was significantly higher in unfished areas. We also found more and larger spawning-age red drum, spotted seatrout, black drum, and striped mullet in the unfished areas," said Johnson."But one of the most significant results of the tagging element of the study documented the migration of important fish from protected areas to fished areas. Some fishes tagged in the protected zones were caught by fishermen in unprotected areas. These and other observations suggest that spawning by some species in protected zones may further benefit surrounding fisheries."

The article "The Effectiveness of an Existing Estuarine No-take Fish Sanctuary Within the Kennedy Space Center, Florida," can be found in volume 19 of the North American Journal of Fishery Management, pages 436-453.Copies may be obtained by writing to either Dr. James Bohnsack or Dr. Darlene Johnson at the National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, Fla. 33149.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is the principal steward of the nation's living marine resources, regulating the nation's commercial and recreational fisheries and managing species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act throughout federal waters which extend 200 miles from the coastline. An agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries also protects marine and anadromous species under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.