MEPS 294:227-239 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps294227

Change in size and abundance of Caribbean spiny lobsters Panulirus argus in a marine reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, USA

Carrollyn Cox*, John H. Hunt

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, South Florida Regional Laboratory, 2796 Overseas Highway, Suite 119, Marathon, Florida 33050, USA

ABSTRACT: Spiny lobster size and abundance have been monitored in the Western Sambo Ecological Reserve since its designation in 1997 as a fully protected marine reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Surveys were conducted in July (during the closed fishing season) and September (following the first month of the fishing season) in both the reserve and in an adjacent exploited area. The reserve comprises 3000 ha extending from the shoreline to the 18 m depth contour past the spur-and-groove forereef. Western Sambo contains several distinctly different habitats, which lobsters use during different life stages. It appears that a residential population of spiny lobsters is becoming established within the reserve. The mean size of legal lobsters and the frequency of occurrence of very large lobsters, especially males, have increased steadily since full protection was implemented in 1997. The largest legal-sized lobsters were found on offshore patch reefs. Lobster abundance varied significantly by site, fishing season, and habitat. The overall abundance of spiny lobsters in the reserve varied without trend among years, but the abundance of legal-sized lobsters during the closed season increased significantly in the reserve relative to the exploited area.

KEY WORDS: Spiny lobster · Marine reserves · MPAs · Fishery management · Population dynamics · Panulirus argus

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