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Change in fish and benthic communities in Belizean patch reefs across a parrotfish ban in and out of a fisheries closure

T. R. McClanahan*, N. A. Muthiga

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The role of a marine reserve and fisheries regulations in restoring fish populations on reefs disturbed by climate impacts was evaluated. Eight patch reefs divided equally between a no-fishing and fished zones in the remote Glover’s Reef atoll reef lagoon were studied for 22 years: 13 years before and 9 years after an effective ban on parrotfish capture. Findings indicate that the fisheries closure’s main effect was the recovery of targeted carnivorous species, notably snappers, jacks, and groupers. Recovery continued for most the time series including the later period when parrotfish were banned. Parrotfish abundance slowly declined in both management zones and across the ban period. The loss occurred for both small non-fished species, such as the striped parrotfish, and for fished species, such as the stoplight and red-band parrotfish. Consequently, parrotfish abundance appeared to be controlled by the ecology of these patch reefs rather than fishing mortality. We suggest that the high and persistent cover of late-successional algae reduces the renewal rates of algae, which had negative consequences for all studied parrotfish populations. Low ocean currents and physical energy in the lagoon appeared to promote algal persistence. Thus, parrotfish bans may be more effective in promoting reef recovery in environments that promote rapid algal turnover. Fisheries regulations are unlikely to rapidly restore hard corals on these patch reefs, which have slowly transitioned to algal dominance since first described in 1970.