Protection of exploited fish in temperate regions: high density and biomass of snapper Pagrus auratus (Sparidae) in northern New Zealand marine reserves

Trevor J Willis, Russell B. Millar, Russell C. Babcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. The use of marine reserves as tools either for conservation or fisheries management requires rigorous empirical evidence for the recovery of exploited species within them.

2. The relative density and size structure of snapper Pagrus auratus (Sparidae), an intensively exploited reef fish species, were measured, using baited underwater video, inside and outside three northern New Zealand marine reserves (Leigh Marine Reserve, Hahei Marine Reserve and Tawharanui Marine Park) every 6 months from October 1997 to April 1999.

3. Log-linear modelling showed that relative total density and egg production of snapper were higher in all three reserves than in fished areas. Snapper that were larger than the minimum legal size were estimated to be 14 times denser in protected areas than in fished areas, and the relative egg production was estimated to be 18 times higher. In the Leigh reserve, legal-size snapper were larger than legal-size snapper in fished areas.

4. At the Leigh reserve, snapper density consistently peaked at the reserve centre and declined towards either boundary, which suggests that snapper became increasingly vulnerable to fishing towards the reserve boundaries.

5. Inshore snapper density was significantly higher in autumn than in spring, supporting previous suggestions that snapper make regular onshore–offshore seasonal migrations that might be related to spawning. We suggest that the observed recovery of snapper populations within reserves is attributable to immigration of individuals from fished areas that take up residency within reserves, rather than juvenile recruitment.

6. Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates the effectiveness of marine reserves for protecting an exploited species previously thought to be too mobile to respond to area-based protection. Although it is difficult to envisage significant enhancement of fished areas via adult emigration, it is likely that the reserves contribute significantly to local gamete production. In addition, the protection of fish populations within reserves might slow reductions in genetic diversity caused by size-selective mortality brought about by exploitation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-227
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2003


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