August 21, 2013

Fish and Abalone Have Declined Since 1970s Along California Coast


A report released by Reef Check documents dramatic declines in fish populations on rocky reefs along the California coast since the 1970s. Eleven of 25 fish species monitored have declined 25% or more in abundance; nine of these species are targeted by recreational or commercial fishermen. Abalone are still rare in southern California due to overfishing and disease. Despite overall declines in fish abundance, the report also reveals some encouraging signs of recovery in the state’s newly established network of marine protected areas. The report is an analysis of six years of marine biological surveys of over 70 species of fish, invertebrates and algae at about 80 rocky reefs from Humboldt to San Diego County during 2006 to 2011. These results were compared with fish population data collected by scientists in the 1970s.

“The results show just how much some fish populations have declined in the last 40 years. The good news is that they also show how careful fisheries management techniques and less disease issues have allowed abalone populations to survive in northern California,” said marine biologist Dr. Jan Freiwald, Director of Reef Check’s California program.

Each year since 2006, the Reef Check Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of tropical coral reefs and California rocky-reef ecosystems, has trained and certified about 250 scuba divers to carry out standardized scientific surveys of kelp forests and rocky reefs. “This report is the result of thousands of hours spent by our staff and trained volunteers working underwater, often in difficult conditions,” said Dr. Freiwald.

The report, “Status of Rocky Reef Ecosystems in California 2006-2011,” shows that the public-private partnership between Reef Check and the state provides a cost-effective solution to track changes in the marine environment in a state with a 1000-mile long coast, rough seas, great white sharks and limited government staff available to carry out underwater surveys. Reef Check relies on a network of universities, research institutes, private enterprises and volunteer citizen scientists to accomplish the gargantuan task of an annual statewide underwater survey – sometimes working side-by-side with marine biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Reef Check data is used by government agencies and academic researchers because the quality of the data is ensured by a rigorous training program, strong commitment to data quality and efforts to integrate with other ongoing monitoring and research programs.

California is home to one of the most spectacular marine habitats in the world – rocky reefs covered in kelp forests. Dwelling in these amazing underwater forests are a treasure-trove of unique plant life and species of fish; beautiful and more importantly valuable for the sustainability of California’s ocean ecosystem. In 1999, recognizing the declining condition of California’s marine ecosystems, the state passed The Marine Life Protection Act to create a network of underwater parks to provide safe havens for marine species to reproduce and grow. While it takes time for this recovery process to occur naturally, the Reef Check results indicate that several species have started to recover in California’s marine reserves such as Lover’s Point State Marine Reserve (SMR) in Monterey Bay. At other sites, the recovery is still in progress.

Click here to download a complete copy of the “Status of Rocky Reef Ecosystems in California 2006-2011” Report.