Monday, August 10, 2009

Distressing the "Damsel"fish

The damselfish population is apparently wreaking havoc in Coral Reefs in the Caribbean. Why, you ask?

Ask the Marine Park Manager who has done little, apparently, to curb overfishing of predatory species such as the grasby (much like a grouper) and the parrotfish. By allowing unlimited fishing of these two species, in particular, their presence has been depleted, allowing the damselfish to thrive and multiply. The grasby prey on the damselfish; the parrotfish dines on algae (little herbivores).

According to an article which recently appeared on the NPR website, the damselfish, which is a small fish (approximately the size of a goldfish), uses algae to build nests. It does this by sucking on coral. This frees the coral of the algae, however it kills the coral. Over time, the reef will cease to exist. Multiply this by the thousands and things could change more rapidly.

Parrotfish eat algae and they have been overfished. Grasby prey on damselfish but they, too, have been overfished. Solution? Limit the catching of parrotfish and grasby.

Given the situation, I draw a strong parallel to the limitations placed on striped bass. In order to ensure the species can grow and thrive, limitations are placed on the size of those that you can keep (i.e., no more than 28 inches and no less than 42 inches, depending on where you live). Fisherfolk respect these limitations. Why shouldn't the Marine Park Manager implement some laws with regard to this situation? I don't profess to advocate the control of certain fish species, but when the Marine Park Manager states, "Feel free to fish grasbys, but corals will decline as a result, indirectly. And everything else that depends on those corals, including the grasbys ultimately, will also go down."

It is a complex ecosystem - a coral reef. But the population of the damselfish needs to be in distress. Ignoring the problem is only accelerating the progress of this issue. Either introduce more predatory fish or add regulations. Marine Park Ranger, what say you?